Kyle Brady, 31, is a former professional baseball pitcher who now owns a Knoxville business where he trains young baseball and softball players. Last April, Brady was finishing up a lesson when he felt a “funny pain” in his collarbone.
“I was doing a pitching lesson with one of my guys, and I felt almost like a lump in my throat. I couldn’t swallow. It wasn’t a chest pain, but rather right in my collarbone,” he said. “I got dizzy for a second, sat down, got a drink of water, then I stood back up and it was fine. But it hung there, like someone had punched me in the neck.”
At 6-feet, 9-inches tall and in great health, Brady powered through another lesson. He did take time to phone a friend from college who is now an emergency room physician
“I asked him what he thought, and he told me to get it checked out. What could it hurt? So I did another 30-minute lesson. I had my dog with me, so I took my dog all the way back home, and then finally drove myself to Parkwest Medical Center that evening,” said Brady.
He arrived at Parkwest around 8 p.m. and saw emergency physician Rodd Daigle, MD. Fortunately for Brady, Parkwest is West Knoxville’s premier medical facility and a top-performing heart hospital, with state-of-the-art imaging capabilities in the emergency department especially for heart and stroke events.
“Obviously this was a healthy guy, a former baseball pitcher,” said Dr. Daigle. “There was no [heart] distress. He had some mild elevated blood pressure, but otherwise looked normal.v
“The thing that caught my eye was that he was a very tall person,” Dr. Daigle added. “His legs were hanging off the end of the stretcher. He has some Marfan syndrome-like traits. Marfan syndrome is a connective tissue disorder, and people with that condition could have aortic symptoms.”
The aorta is the main blood vessel leading away from the heart. In Marfan syndrome, the aorta can grow unusually large, causing it to tear. This is called an aortic dissection and is a life-threatening event.
“The typical description of aortic dissection is a sudden radiating pain in the chest and tachycardia (a fast heart rate over 100 beats per minute). The patient usually looks to be in significant distress,” Dr. Daigle said. “But Mr. Brady had none of those appearances, and in fact walked into the room and was watching TV when I went to examine him.
“An aortic dissection is very unusual, especially in someone young and healthy. It would have been easy to write off his symptoms as nothing serious,” said Dr. Daigle. “But because of his height and his family history, I felt like it was worthwhile pursuing that diagnosis.”
“I’m pretty familiar with Marfan syndrome,” said Brady. “They think that’s what my grandfather had, and he died of complications from a heart surgery. But I haven’t been diagnosed with it, and never really had problems. So while this wasn’t a complete surprise, there was a little bit of shock.”
Dr. Daigle ordered a chest X-ray and an EKG (an electrocardiogram test to measure the heart’s rhythm). Both were normal. He then ordered an extra test called a CTA, which stands for computed tomography angiography.
A CTA scan is a special kind of CT exam that focuses particularly on the blood vessels of the neck and chest, using a contrast material to make them show up clearly in the images. The test found an abnormality in Brady’s ascending aorta.
“I had a dilated aortic root. It was double the size it was supposed to be,” said Brady. ”By then it was 1 a.m. and they started discussing surgery. The ED team contacted surgeon Parijat Didolkar, MD, and Brady said, “I was on the operating table by 2 a.m.”
Brady called all his family and wife, Allison, who was out of town at the time.
“I had one moment of freak-out, but mostly I just felt like I was going to be OK,” said Brady of his experience. “Everybody at Parkwest was awesome, very positive, super supportive and helpful.”
Dr. Didolkar replaced Brady’s ascending aorta, saving the valve. After a week in the hospital, Brady went home, and began several months of cardiopulmonary exercise classes at Parkwest Cardiac Rehab at Fort Sanders West to get his strength back.
Today he is back at work, running the business he started just last February. ”I feel pretty good, and for the most part I’m back to normal,” said Brady. “I’m up and throwing during most of my pitching lessons, and exercising to stay in shape. “I’m able to do most things. It’s day-to-day. I got back to 80 percent pretty quickly; the last 20 percent will take a while,” he said.
“I would recommend Parkwest for anything,” Brady added. “The nurses and doctors were awesome. I went through a really difficult thing, but I’m here – I’m still standing.”