A Cold, Clinical Interlude

What is a double aortic arch?

Double aortic arch diagram

Diagram of a double aortic arch (image taken from Penn Medicine, www.pennmedicine.org)

 

In a person with normal cardiac anatomy, the aorta (which is our body’s main artery) comes up out of heart toward the person’s back, travels down the chest parallel to the esophagus, and branches off into smaller arteries below. In a person with a double aortic arch, the aorta is shaped less like a simple tube and more like a tube with a ring at the top. In fact, a double aortic arch is just one variety of a group of congenital heart conditions called “vascular rings.”

If you look at the image above (borrowed from Penn Medicine), you can see that the “ring” created by the double aortic arch fits like a rubber band around both the trachea (through which we breathe, connecting the mouth and nose to the lungs) and the esophagus (through which food travels from the mouth to the stomach). As a person with this kind of utterly impractical anatomy grows, that ring may not.

With a band around your trachea, breathing is difficult.

With a band around your esophagus, eating is difficult.

This was the diagnosis Sammi received at 13 months old, with an order for surgery as soon as possible.

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11 thoughts on “A Cold, Clinical Interlude

  1. […] beginning of the final path, the one that led to the first big cardiac diagnosis, came in the fall of 2006. A friend had been visiting with her baby, who had been oozing green snot […]

  2. […] with the otolaryngologist, ended in a bronchoscopy under general anesthesia and the diagnosis of double aortic arch, confirmed with a CT scan, also delivered under general anesthesia a few days later. Surgery was […]

  3. […] that day. It was Cathy who sat next to me in the consultation room as the doctor explained what a double aortic arch was, and Cathy who looked me in the eye and told me it would be ok. It was Cathy who held Sammi as […]

  4. […] support groups and forums. I knew from previous small forays into research of her first diagnosis, cardiac in nature, that the people posting on the bulletin boards are largely the ones in desperate need of […]

  5. […] they said, when they discovered her double aortic arch, the congenital heart condition they’d missed for the whole first year of her life, maybe […]

  6. […] she was diagnosed with a rare congenital heart condition at the age of 13 months, and in addition to the chest x-ray she’d already had, she had to be […]

  7. […] this was delivered was so derisive, as though I was indiscriminately blurting out the story of Sammi’s first cardiac surgery to anyone who didn’t run away when I opened my mouth. It made me feel like an […]

  8. […] before the ACA, as “pre-existing conditions.” I have one daughter who was born with a congenital heart defect that affected her respiratory and digestive health. I have another daughter with a kidney/ureter […]

  9. […] The baby in the photo is struggling to breathe. […]

  10. […] since my daughter — now twelve years old and completely healthy — was diagnosed with a Double Aortic Arch just after her first birthday. In the intervening years, I typed those words into a desktop […]

  11. […] I was only visiting Holland. After my daughter, Sammi, had major cardiac surgery to correct a double aortic arch, she was only a year old. Shortly after the surgery, her pediatrician sat me down for a serious […]

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