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Alan Thicke and Aortic Dissection

Allan ThickeAlan  Thicke was best known as psychiatrist Jason Seaver in the ABC television show, "Growing Pains", but was also a popular Canadian actor, songwriter, and television game and talk show host who was nominated for three Emmy Awards as a writer for Barry Manilow's talk show, and later for "America 2-Night.  He composed several theme songs for TV shows, including the original themes for "Wheel of Fortune," "The Facts of Life" and "Diff'rent Strokes."
 
On Dec. 13, 2016, at age 69, he collapsed while playing ice hockey with his 19-year-old son and died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm after first being diagnosed as having had a heart attack at a Burbank CA hospital. In 2003, the same condition killed 54-year-old sitcom star John Ritter of "Three’s Company," and in 2010, 69-year-old diplomat Richard Holbrooke died after 20 hours of emergency surgery to try to repair his aortic dissection.
 
Thicke had taken a few shifts on the ice during a hockey game and seemed to be fine. Then during his last shift, he stopped suddenly and skated to the bench, sat down, hunched over, lay down and started to moan and hold his head. His friends called 911 and the paramedics arrived a couple of minutes later. He was conscious and had stopped moaning when they carried him from the rink to the hospital.  As he was wheeled away, he gave the thumbs up to his friends and son.  
 
At the hospital he looked like a person suffering a heart attack, but the CT scan showed a suspected dissecting aortic aneurysm, in which the inner layer of the artery tears away from the outer layer, causing blood to flow between the layers of the artery. This is an emergency situation because the artery is so weakened that it bulges and can burst like a tire's inner tube just before a blowout. He was rushed to surgery, but the aorta burst three hours after he first felt his severe chest pains and he died during the surgery.
 


 

Early Life and Career
Thicke was born in 1947 in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, to a nurse and stockbroker who divorced when he was five. He went on to attend the University of Western Ontario.  After college he worked on several TV talk shows and in the early 1980s, he hosted his own talk show in Canada.  He also was a very successful TV theme and popular song composer, wrote a number of TV game show themes, produced a variety of television shows, had many television and film appearances and co-hosted public events.
 
His Private Life
He was married to "Days of Our Lives" actress Gloria Loring from 1970 to 1984.  In 1986, at age 40, he dated 17-year-old actress Kristy Swanson and became engaged to her two years later, but they did not marry.  He married his second wife, Miss-World-1990 Gina Tolleson, in 1994 and divorced her in 1999. He then met model Tanya Callau and married her in 2005. 
 


 

What is a Ruptured Thoracic Aneurysm?
The aorta is an arched, candy-cane-shaped tube that carries blood from the heart to the body. Thicke had an aortic dissection. This means that the inner lining of the aortic tube separates from the outer layer just after the artery leaves the heart, and weakens the walls of the tube so much that the artery bulges outward to form a balloon called an aneurysm, which can burst suddenly. 
 
Once the inner lining of the aorta starts to separate from the outer layers, a person can die before he arrives at a hospital for emergency surgery and there is still a 25 percent risk of dying during the surgery.  Thicke made it to the emergency room but died during the operation.  The surgery is incredibly complicated and takes tremendous skill on the part of the surgeon.  It usually takes more than eight hours and includes connecting the patient to a heart-lung machine, cooling the body to reduce blood flow to the brain, removing the weak part of the aorta tube and then replacing the removed tube by stitching a synthetic tube to the ends of the remaining aorta.  Then the surgeons have to close the chest that has been cut wide open. 
 
Symptoms of an Aneurysm
Most people with early aneurysms have no symptom at all, so 95 per cent of the time people don’t even know that they have one.  Aneurysms occur in families.  Symptoms can include: 
• chest or back pain 
• difficulty breathing or swallowing 
• shortness of breath 
• coughing or hoarseness
 
Aortic dissections are rare, occurring only in 2 of 10,000 patients, most often in men 40 to 70 years old.  Aortic aneurysms are also rare, causing approximately 10,000 deaths per year in the U.S. (Circulation. 2013;127:e6–e245).  Aneurysms are associated with smoking, high blood pressure, plaques in arteries, high cholesterol, sudden trauma,  long-term infections such as syphilis and some genetic weaknesses of the blood vessels..  Since smoking is a major risk factor for aneurysms, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force  recommends that men aged 65–75 years who have ever smoked should get an ultrasound screening for aortic aneurysms, even if they have no symptoms (Ann Intern Med. 2005;142:203–11).
 
Thicke felt chest pains, was nauseous and then vomited while he was playing ice hockey with his son.  These symptoms along with a severe tearing and ripping pain in the chest and back can also be caused by a heart attack.  An enlarged aorta can be diagnosed only by a CT scan or sonogram and the treatment for a ruptured aorta is immediate surgery.    
 
March 1, 1947 – December 13, 2016 

January 8th, 2017
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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