Widow helps raise awareness for aortic dissection

EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — An aortic dissection can be a catastrophic condition in which a tear occurs in the aorta, the body’s main artery. It can affect anyone, at any age, and could be deadly.

With aortic dissection, many people die before they reach the hospital. You’re more at risk if you have severe hypertension, a family history of the disease, or certain genetic conditions.

It’s been 20 years since actor John Ritter died suddenly of aortic dissection, and now his widow is marking the anniversary by raising awareness of the condition. 28/22 News spoke to her and a renowned interventional cardiologist from our area about aortic dissection and how to recognize, treat, and prevent it.

“He passed away 20 years ago because it was undiagnosed, then misdiagnosed sadly in the ER,” said Yasbek.


It was 2003 when Amy Yasbek suddenly lost her husband, actor John Ritter. The Emmy winner, best known for his role in Three’s company, died at age 55 after he suffered an aortic dissection.

“John was having chest pains at work, we took him to the ER across the street in Burbank, and because he was 55 and a male they just started treating him for a heart attack,” explained Yasbek.

“Can you explain how this could have been avoided and how other families can avoid the same outcome?” asked 28/22 News.

“Thoracic aortic dissection is something that can happen to anyone at any age even babies. One out of five people we’re finding more every day,” answered Yasbek.

Aortic dissection is a serious condition in which a tear occurs in the inner layer of the body’s main artery, the aorta. An aortic dissection is caused by a weakened area of the aorta’s wall.

Severe pain in the chest and back is a major symptom. Prompt medical attention is a must.

“If one of the layers is torn wall starts to not bare the pressure, which becomes an aneurysm blown or worse and that’s how people die from aortic dissection,” said Dr. Samir Pancholy, interventional cardiologist at the Wright Center.

Risk factors of aortic dissection:

  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure

  • Hardening of the arteries

  • Weakened artery or aneurysm

  • Aortic valve defect, or certain genetic conditions.

  • The most common genetic defect is Marfan syndrome.

“If you have a high schooler who is 1ft taller than the rest of the class, has caved in chest, has a wide span of the arms that’s a clue,” says Dr. Pancholy.

When an aortic dissection is diagnosed early and treated promptly, the chance of survival greatly improves.

Information that could mean the difference between life and death.

Aortic dissection is preventable if you monitor your blood pressure and get scans of the aorta regularly if you are predisposed.

Amy Yasbek continues to raise awareness in an effort to save lives.

For more information on aortic dissection head to the John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health.

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