Teen undergoes preventive surgery in Houston to avoid deadly condition

A local mom almost died from a rare heart condition that did take her dad's life. Now her family is taking precautions to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to her children.

They also want to help save others' lives by sharing their situation.

Heart to heart:  Amy and Ayden Fireck share a close mother-son relationship in many ways, emotionally and physically.

"His (Ayden's) mom actually had the aortic dissection and was treated emergently and then they were able to identify that she had a genetic predisposition for this problem," explains Dr. Anthony Estrera. He's a Professor and Chair of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery with McGovern Medical School at UT Health Houston and Medical Director of Cardiovascular ICU and Cardiovascular IMU at Memorial Hermann Heart and Vascular Institute.

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This problem of Amy's was a serious life-threatening emergency.

"Aortic dissection is a condition in which the aortic wall tears from inside, leading to a separation of the layers of the wall of the aorta. The aorta is the main pipe of the body, arising from the heart, and carries blood to all the organs," states Dr. Estrera.

It's an incredibly painful condition.

"My chest started getting tight and burning and it was coming up higher and higher and went through my neck, you know, felt like a sear. It was like a hot poker, just really, really hot and severe and it went down all of the left side of my face," says Amy.

It's sudden death for many people who suffer from this, but surgeons were able to race Amy to the operating room to repair her aorta. Seven years ago, from that day, Amy's dad died from the same thing and they're raising awareness for her beloved dad.

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The Firecks are doing everything they can to stop this heart problem in its tracks for their family. That started with genetic testing. Dr. Dianna Milewicz is a Professor and Director of Medical Genetics with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and encourages anyone with a family history to consider doing genetic testing.

"It is rewarding but when the families come to me, and they've had five, six generations of people dying in their 40s or early 50s of aortic dissections. It's really sad that it took so long to get to this point that we understand it runs in families," states Dr. Milewicz.

Ayden and his family are relieved they did the genetic tests. After finding out he was at risk of aortic dissection, he was ready for the surgical challenge to prevent it.

"Happy, because I wanted to go ahead and just hit the nail on the head get it over with, so I didn't have problems later in life. But, at the same time, as a 17-year-old going into open-heart surgery, it was also pretty scary," admits Ayden.

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Dr. Estrera performed a procedure on Ayden to spare him from the huge scare his mom suffered seven years ago.

"The surgery went very well. We were able to replace his aortic root and save his aortic valve, which meant that he didn't have to be on life-long blood thinners. We're getting rid of or replacing that pipe, that old diseased pipe and replacing it with a new synthetic pipe. And then we have to rebuild his aortic valve into that pipe to preserve that function of his valve, which is a one-way valve as well as reattach the coronary arteries," states Dr. Estrera.

It was a tough recovery.

"I'm going to be completely honest, the first three to four weeks were really bad, extremely painful," says Ayden.

"Absolutely terrifying. No mother should have to see their child like that. I went through it and I tried to prepare him the best that I could as to what to expect. But to walk in and see your son hooked up to so many things and a ventilator. And all that. It was very emotional, but I am very thankful," states Amy.

Ayden is back at doing what he loves the most.

"He was in a (Navy) JROTC drill competition and spinning a 20-pound rifle up in the air and won first place. It wasn't even two months yet. I'm just so proud, he has done very well," says a smiling Amy. 

She's excited about Ayden's bright future, as he is now considering being a surgeon one day. His younger brother may have to also undergo that same procedure someday.

For more information: https://memorialhermann.org/services/conditions/aortic-dissection