The fact that Larry Schauf is alive is literally a miracle, according to his family. His daughter Amy Wilson credits prayer, the quick response of an able medical team and a little serendipity for saving her dad’s life.
On a Sunday afternoon in February without any warning whatsoever, Schauf stood up and felt liked he had been kicked in the chest by a mule, Wilson said. He was able to walk to his wife, Merline, who was in a nearby room. She took one look and realized they had to get him to the emergency room as soon as possible.
They were able to get in the car and in the half mile it took for Merline to drive to Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center, Schauf began turning ashen and his eyes rolled to the back of his head.
At the hospital, the last thing he remembers was being asked if he could see. He couldn’t.
A CT scan revealed that Schauf had a triple dissection ascending aorta. An aortic dissection is a serious condition in which there is a tear in the wall of the major artery carrying blood out of the heart or aorta. As the tear extends along the wall of the aorta, blood can flow in between the layers of the blood vessel wall. In turn, this can lead to aortic rupture or decreased blood flow to organs.
Most aortic dissections occur because high blood pressure causes the artery’s wall to rupture. While aortic dissection is rare and occurs in about 2 out of every 10,000 people, it can strike anyone and is often fatal. Nearly 20 percent of patients with this condition die on the way to the hospital.
Although Schauf didn’t have high blood pressure, he had been under some stress due to the sale of an existing house, building of a new house and his recovery from shingles.
The team at the Huntersville emergency room had to move fast to transport him to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, where a team of 12 specialists, led by cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Tom Theruvath were quickly called in for the procedure.
“Within minutes the ambulance had my Dad at the Charlotte hospital and Dr. T was working his magic – he is amazing,” recalls Wilson. The surgery lasted 8 hours and all the while the family prayed. “We are a very religious family and we literally prayed the rosary for 8 hours. We thought we were going to lose him so all we had was our faith.”
After the surgery, Theruvath met with the family. The surgery had gone well, he had done everything he could, but he didn’t know the extent of damage Schauf’s brain might have suffered or how long he was without oxygen.
Several hours later the family was allowed to see him in the intensive care unit. “My father was intubated and my mother held his hand which he squeezed three times. We knew it meant he loved us and his brain was fine,” Wilson said.
Schauf continued to improve. By one that afternoon, he was able to breathe on his own and speak again.
Altogether, Schauf spent nine days at the hospital, then continued his recovery at home.
The family has nothing but praise for the care team. “Not only is Dr. T so skilled, he has the best bedside manner,” Wilson said. “He made us feel like we were the only family he was caring for.” Dr. Denzil Harris was the cardiologist on duty at Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center when Schauf first arrived for treatment. At Schauf’s follow-up visit, the doctor told him “I can’t believe how good you look!”
Schauf is back to pursuing his regular activities. The 72-year-old retired attorney goes to church every day, tends to his garden and mows the lawn.
Wilson said the experience brought the already tight-knit family even closer. “This really brought my whole family together and it revived my faith in what we do. The odds were really against my father.”