After surviving an aortic dissection, Mike Vinger (pictured with his family and wife, Polly) is grateful to everyone who helped him beat the odds.

Heart patient: ‘Thankful every day’

June 24, 2020

When Mike Vinger looks back on Sept. 9, 2019, he sees a foggy fall night where everything lined up just so for him to make it to sunrise.


Unexpected diagnosis

That night, Mike was at home in Williston, N.D., watching football when he started feeling numb on his left side. Despite not having any health conditions previously, Mike worried he was having heart attack.

Mike’s wife rushed him to the emergency department at a nearby hospital. There they learned Mike’s condition was even more serious than the average heart attack. Mike’s aorta – the heart’s main artery that supplies blood to the body – was tearing apart. This often fatal condition is known as aortic dissection.

“The sooner we can operate on an aortic dissection, the better,” said Dr. Michael Brown, a cardiovascular surgeon at Sanford Bismarck. “The mortality rate is very high without surgery and goes up every hour.”


Emergency surgery

Many with Mike’s condition never make it to the operating room. Luckily for Mike, an air ambulance could get him to the closest medical center capable of performing the complicated surgery – Sanford Bismarck – in half the time it would take to drive.

“I didn’t realize how serious it was then,” Mike said. “I knew I was in trouble when they said they had to fly me to Bismarck.”

When Mike arrived at Sanford Bismarck, Dr. Brown and his team were ready to perform a more than eight-hour, open heart surgery.

“I owe that guy my life,” Mike said of Dr. Brown. “He’s really caring and thorough. Every time you see him, he makes you feel you’re his only patient.”


‘Thankful every day’

Mike’s journey didn’t end after surgery. From recovery immediately after surgery to cardiac rehab, the heart team helped him get back to where he was before that foggy fall night.

“It’s critical to have a facility like we do here in our community,” said Dr. Brown who has been treating patients in Bismarck for more than 20 years. “It truly is a whole team effort.”

With the air care to get Mike to Bismarck quickly, technology to treat him, post-operative care, ICU and cardiac rehab, Dr. Brown said our region is fortunate to have the program we have to save lives like Mike’s.

“Everything had to work out just right,” Mike said. “When I was coherent enough to understand everything, I couldn’t believe I survived.

“I’m just thankful every day.”


Future of heart care

Help us stay ahead of the curve and continue to care for more hearts close to home.

“We’re fortunate to have the program we have here,” said Dr. Brown. “But to save lives, we need special equipment and the latest technology that a lot of facilities and medical centers can’t afford.”

Community support from donors like you can help meet that need. Join us today and invest in the heart and vascular technology of tomorrow.