Hollywood actor, Alan Thicke, died due to an acute aortic dissection.  This is the same cause of death that led to the tragic loss of life of fellow Hollywood comedian and actor John Ritter over 13 years ago in Los Angeles.  An acute aortic dissection can mimic a heart attack and if not detected and treated emergently, nearly 40% of all incidents of aortic dissection lead to death.  Yet, many of the 25,000 people a year who die from an aortic dissection could potentially be diagnosed before the dissection and treated so a dissection is prevented.

What is an Aortic Dissection?

An aortic dissection occurs when there is a tear in the wall of the aorta, the major artery coming out of the heart. The tear allows the blood to ‘dissect’ from inside the lumen of the aorta into the wall.  As the dissection progresses, the wall is torn apart and weakened, leading to aortic rupture and sudden death.

Alan Thicke complained of chest pains while playing hockey on December 13th.  His chest pains were most likely due to the acute tear in the aorta and the following aortic dissection.  His dissected aorta ruptured three hours later, ultimately leading to his death.  Alan Thicke’s aortic rupture was caused by his aortic dissection.

How To Prevent an Aortic Dissection?

Much is written about how the flaw in the aorta that leads to dissection is “undetectable” and “untreatable.” However, many people of the 25,000 people a year who die of aortic disease can be diagnosed before the dissection, and treated so that a dissection is prevented. Typically, there is a widening or ballooning out of the aorta, called an aneurysm, before the dissection occurs.  These aneurysms progressively grow larger without symptoms.  While people can live with a growing aneurysm for years, when a dissection occurs, it often kills quickly within a matter of hours.  If the aneurysm is detected, it can be surgically repaired to prevent a dissection.

The aorta is the main vessel that sends blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. It is shaped like a candy cane and is typically about as wide as a garden hose (2.5-3.5 cm). When blood is pumped by the heart, it first travels through the aorta.  An aortic aneurysm is a widening, bulging, or ballooning out of a portion of the aorta. Aneurysms usually occur where there is a weak spot in the aortic wall.

What Are the Risk Factors  For Aortic Aneurysms and Dissections?

There are several factors that can increase the risk of dissection, including genetic and environmental influences:

Genetic factors can increase the risk for aortic disease.  If you have a family member who has had an aortic dissection, this is a red flag that other family members may also be at risk for an aortic dissection.  After John Ritter’s death, his family members had imaging to determine if they had an undetected aneurysm.  It was found that John’s brother did have an aneurysm. He had it surgically repaired, and is alive and well today. Had he not taken preventative measures, the chances for aortic dissection were considerably high.

Genetic syndromes like Marfan, Loeys-Dietz and vascular Ehlers Danlos syndrome can predispose to aortic dissection.

Environmental factors that increase the chance to develop an aortic aneurysm or dissection include the following:

To learn more about the different types of genetic risks, review the Ritter Rules.

Email info@johnritterfoundation.org with any questions/requests

About The John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health:

Founded in October 2003, just weeks after actor John Ritter’s sudden death due to an acute aortic dissection, the foundation is dedicated to improving the identification of individuals at risk for aortic dissections and the treatment of thoracic aortic disease through medical research. The foundation also seeks to provide accurate information to the general public about the disease and its risk factors, along with support to individuals who have thoracic aortic disease or have lost a loved one to the disease.  

The 1st Annual Riley’s Run for Aortic Health is coming up on March 28th, 2015. This is a race put together by Riley’s friends and family to raise money for the John Ritter Foundation to support research and awareness. Read about this remarkable young woman here.

The 5th Annual ADLER PADDLER in support of the John Ritter Foundation is coming up on MARCH 22nd, 2015. This paragraph on their website says it all: “This event isn’t just about raising money for such a great organization but it’s also about encouraging people to understand and gain awareness of their family history. First-degree relatives (parents, siblings, children) of a person who has, or has had, a thoracic aortic aneurysm and/or dissection can have a higher chance to develop an aneurysm. Our goal as an event is to help prevent premature deaths due to thoracic aortic disease by creating more public awareness of this disease.” – Paddle With Purpose.  Click here for more information.

We are proud of the research being performed at the John Ritter Research Program. Check out the research group’s 21 publications for 2014 and acknowledgement of your support here.

Your philanthropic contributions and participation make a difference. When everyone gets involved, we can do more.

To learn more about getting involved by participating in research, visit the Resources page or visit www.JohnRitterResearchProgram.org.

Download a copy of the research study brochure here.

To help by donating to the John Ritter Foundation click here.

Dianna M. Milewicz, MD, PhD and Frank R. Arko III, MD talk about raising awareness for aortic disease and the future of research on this disease. They reiterate the goals of the John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health and discuss the diagnosis of aortic disease in both non-emergency and emergency settings. Read this insightful article here.

The John Ritter Foundation (JRF) is proud to announce it has been selected as an official charity of the ASICS LA Marathon to take place on Sunday, March 15, 2015.  We are excited to have this opportunity to offer an additional Team Ritter event to increase awareness of thoracic aortic aneurysms and dissections and raise money to support our mission.  And we are also excited because this event offers opportunities for marathoners AND half-marathoners.

We are looking for a team of people who are passionate about increasing awareness of aortic dissection and its risk factors, committed to raising money to support our mission, and who want to train for and run the marathon.  Here is what a past Team Ritter member had to say about the being a part of Team Ritter: Read more

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two different disability programs to those who suffer from long-term or permanent disabilities, such as aortic disease. These programs include the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Each program has its own technical requirements in order to be eligible, but for either program you must meet the medical requirements that have been set forth by the SSA.
Meeting the SSA’s Medical Requirements
When you apply for Social Security Disability benefits, the SSA compares your condition to a listing of conditions known as the Blue Book. The Blue Book contains all of the conditions that may qualify an individual for benefits from the SSA, along with the criteria that must be met under each condition.
Within the Blue Book, each condition is given its own section. When applying for disability benefits due to aortic disease, your condition will be compared to the criteria set forth in Section 4.10 of the Blue Book, which covers aneurysm and/or dissection of an aorta or major branches, due to any cause.
To qualify for benefits under this section of the Blue Book, you must have a diagnosis of the condition that has been demonstrated by appropriate medically acceptable imaging, with dissection not controlled by prescribed treatment. Learn more here.
The Technical Requirements of the Disability Programs
If you meet the medical eligibility requirements of the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book, you must then also meet the criteria of the different Social Security Disability programs. As mentioned above, the SSA disability programs each have their own criteria. To qualify for one or both programs, you must be able to prove that you meet the program’s criteria.
SSDI Benefits Eligibility
To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must have earned a certain number of work credits prior to becoming disabled. As a general rule, you must have earned a total of 40 work credits through prior work activity with 20 of those credits being earned within the last 10 years. The exact number of credits needed depends on your age, and younger applicants need fewer credits to qualify for SSDI benefits.
SSI Benefits Eligibility
Unlike SSDI benefits, you don’t need any work history to qualify for SSI benefits. The SSI program is a needs-based program. To qualify for this program you must meet the SSA’s financial requirements. As of 2014, this means that you cannot have a household income that exceeds $721 per month as an individual or $1,082 as a couple. Your household assets must also not exceed $2,000 as an individual or $3,000 as a couple, excluding your home and one vehicle. Learn more about social security programs here.
The Social Security Disability Application Process
When you apply for Social Security Disability benefits, it’s your job to prove to the SSA that you are completely unable to maintain gainful employment due to your disability. That means gathering the medical evidence to prove that your condition meets the Blue Book criteria and submitting that evidence along with the forms that the SSA requires you to fill out. When filling out these forms, make sure you leave no sections blank and answer each question with as much detail as possible to help the SSA understand how you qualify for benefits.
After the SSA receives your application, they may ask you to go for a consultative exam. The purpose of this exam is to determine the extent of your disability. It’s important to remember that your own medical records and written statements from your treating physicians are likely to weigh more heavily in a decision than the determination of this exam.
About two to four months after the date of your application, you can expect to receive a decision from the Social Security Administration. If you are awarded benefits, you will be notified as to when benefits will begin, what benefits you are entitled to and how much you will be receiving each month. If you are denied benefits, you have 60 days from the date of the denial notice to appeal the SSA’s decision.
Appealing a Denial of Benefits
If you need to appeal a denial, you may want to consider retaining the services of a disability attorney. Oftentimes applications are denied due to a lack of medical evidence or mistakes made on the claim forms. A disability attorney can help you determine the weak areas of your claim and begin to gather the evidence necessary to strengthen your appeal. He or she can also represent you before an administrative law judge at your disability hearing, which is when you have the greatest chance of overturning the SSA’s decision to deny benefits.
It’s important to note that you should never be discouraged if your initial application for benefits is initially denied. Many current Social Security Disability recipients who receive benefits obtained those benefits through the process of a disability appeal. With the right planning and the help of a disability attorney, you can increase your chances of receiving the benefits you deserve.

Author: Lisa Giorgetti, Community Liaison, Social Security Disability Help

The John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health is one of Amazon’s charity partners. The Amazon smile program allows Amazon customers to choose a charity that will receive 0.5% of the total price on all eligible purchases. You can go to smile.amazon.com to shop and choose The John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health from the drop down menu of charities or use this link to shop on Amazon to donate to the JRF.

We have received many requests for the link to purchase the 2014 Team Ritter Support Crew TCS NYC Marathon T-shirts. You can buy the T-shirts here. Thank you for your support. Go Team Ritter!

The Milewicz group is dedicated to research focused on improving vascular and aortic health. Recent publications from Dr. Milewicz and her colleagues led to an invitation to be “Lab of the Month” from the North American Vascular Biology Organization (NAVBO). Read more about them here.