An estimated 90 percent of people who suffer an aortic dissection die on the spot. That sobering statistic is why Ken Davis, 64, spends more time than most reflecting on his good fortune. A Florida Keys resident, Mr. Davis survived an aortic dissection, which involves the tearing of the inner layer of the aorta, the large blood vessel that branches from the heart.

“I’ve been called a walking-talking miracle,” says Mr. Davis, a retired veteran of the Drug Enforcement Administration, who also served as a private contractor in Iraq, assisting with U.S. counter-intelligence efforts. He lives now in what he calls “paradise” in Islamorada, where he’s been retired for seven years.

In September of last year, Mr. Davis said he was talking on the phone with his brother, when he suddenly felt “a pain in my back that was unlike any pain I’d ever known.”

(Watch Now: The Baptist Health News Team hears from patient Ken Davis and Niberto Moreno, M.D., emeritus chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. Video by Dylan Kyle)

Mr. Davis was taken to Mariners Hospital and airlifted to Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute at Baptist Hospital of Miami. An immediate diagnosis was made and Mr. Davis was rushed into surgery to repair the aortic dissection, says Niberto Moreno, M.D., emeritus chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, who led the surgical team.

In an aortic dissection, blood surges through the tear, causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to separate, or dissect. During seven hours of surgery, Mr. Davis’ body temperature was reduced to 18 degree Celsius (64.4 degrees F) to slow his body’s cellular activity, permitting blood flow to be temporarily stopped.

The popular TV actor John Ritter, 54, died of an undetected aortic dissection in 2003.

Usually, aortic dissections occur in hypertensive (high blood pressure) patients, or in people who have enlarged aortas, explains Dr. Moreno. Other risk factors include a pre-existing aortic aneurysm (a weakened and bulging artery), an aortic valve defect, hardening of the arteries, or a narrowing of the aorta at birth.

Ken Davis with wife

“I woke up (after surgery) that afternoon, probably around 4 or 5 o’clock, not knowing what had happened,” recalls Mr. Davis. “My daughters were there and I said — ‘Did I almost die?’ — because both of them were there. One of them goes, ‘Yeah, we’re pretty sure you did.’ And they started telling me what happened.”

Dr. Moreno say Mr. Davis is doing fine and that his most recent CT scan was “normal for a person who has had an aortic dissection.”

Mr. Davis says he is a very grateful man.

“I live in paradise,” he says. “My wife is beautiful and fantastic. I have phenomenal friends and it’s the greatest place in the world. If you go online, you don’t read too many (aortic dissection) success stories. I am thankful to everybody involved at Baptist Health.”

Generosity Heals

Generosity Heals

Mr. Davis is one of the many survivors grateful for the lifesaving care he received at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. At Baptist Health, our mission is to provide world-class, compassionate healthcare to all and philanthropy plays a significant role in ensuring we’re able to do so. By donating to Baptist Health Foundation, supporters are doing much more than making a gift – they are investing in the advancement of cardiovascular care in South Florida now and into the future. To support the ongoing work of the Institute, make a gift today and designate to Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.

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