I gripped the phone and tried to process what the doctor was telling me.
Only some phrases registered: ‘Your wife… get to hospital… now…’
I left our home of 30 years in Chester and hurried there, not daring to believe what I had heard.
My wife Kath had gone jogging that morning as she always did. She loved keeping fit – she usually was only ever gone for about 40 minutes when she headed out for a run.
However, on this day, she hadn’t returned home and wouldn’t answer her phone. After an hour or so of asking our neighbours if they’d seen her, I called her number again and this time, a doctor at the hospital answered.
The doctor explained that my wife was very poorly and to get to the hospital immediately – a passerby had found her and an air ambulance was called.
When I arrived, I was met at reception by a nurse who escorted me to a small, private waiting room.
What followed was a blur. I remember being told Kath was seriously unwell and that doctors thought she’d had a bleed on the brain as her blood pressure was so low.
She asked if there was anyone that could be with me while they carried out further tests on Kath and in a haze, I called our daughters Rachael, 40, and Stephanie, 36, to come in.
The doctors explained they would have to carry out an MRI scan and after what seemed like an eternity, the doctor came into the claustrophobic waiting room to tell us the verdict.
Kath had suffered a Stamford Type A Aortic Dissection – a rupture in the aorta of the heart – while out jogging. We were told it was a catastrophic event.
An aortic dissection can happen after an abdominal aortic aneurysm – a bulge in the main blood vessel running from your heart to your tummy – is left untreated.
According to NHS data, an aortic dissection is most commonly found in people aged 65 and over and is six times more common in men than women. Kath was only 62.
‘So what can be done? What next?’ I asked desperately, but I was met with grim, voiceless expressions.
There was nothing that could be done.
Kath was going to die.
Kath and I had been together 42 years: we’d met as young lovebirds in our 20s. We’d travelled the world together, had children, and been to Disney World, her favourite place, six times and were planning to go again for her 65th birthday.
We were about to live out our retirement years together.
I remember shaking my head and thinking ‘this can’t be happening’ – it just didn’t make sense.
Kath was super fit, but had clearly been suffering from an abdominal aortic aneurysm for some time – but no one knew.
She’d always seemed well, but all the while this had been a ticking time bomb.
I went to her bedside and saw with horror that she was on a ventilator and watched as the machine breathed for her.
We sat with Kath and told her how much we loved her. Then, we made the most impossible decision of our lives – to turn off her life support machine.
It was an agonising choice, but Kath would never recover. There was nothing anyone could do.
She slipped away with us at her side.
Afterwards, going home from the hospital without Kath was unbearable. I was in agony but also felt an endless sense of rage – we’d had no idea that she was suffering from this condition. As far as we were all concerned, her heart was fine.
In the days that followed Kath’s death, I looked into this ‘catastrophic event’ she had passed away from and was shocked to find out that aortic dissections are often considered a ‘male’ condition.
I learnt that aortic dissections are called a ‘silent killer’ because symptoms are often not obvious until the aorta ruptures and it’s too late.
At 65, all men in the UK are offered an AAA test – a scan that looks for aortic aneurysms and can also help detect a pending aortic dissection.
Women are not offered this test.
It made me so angry – why were they not offered this test? Even though she would have been too young to get a scan if they extended to women, Kath was proof that women can get aortic dissections, too.
I want women to be able to have this check for aortic aneurysms when they are offered their first mammogram – it could save lives. It could have saved Kath’s.
What angers me most is that in the majority of cases, if caught early, this can be fixed. But even for men, 65 is still too late.
This May, Andrew Fletcher, the keyboard player from Depeche Mode, died of this condition aged 60.
Mid Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham has been raising awareness through The Aortic Dissection Charitable Trust after she lost her son in 2018 to the same condition – he was just 44.
Now I’ve moved away from where we used to live – it’s too much facing the memories of where we spent our lives for 30 years.
I can’t bring Kath back. Now I keep myself busy with my family and remember the happy times we spent together.
But if this story helps other families avoid what we have gone through, then Kath’s death won’t have been for nothing.
As told to Julie Cook
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