What is a double aortic arch?
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.