CLEVELAND, Ohio — Every breath reminds Susan DeLeo how grateful she is to be alive. She feels like she got a second chance at life.
In December 2017, Susan suffered an aortic dissection. Basically, she blew out the biggest blood vessel in the body.
She underwent emergency open heart surgery at The Cleveland Clinic.
"Twenty to 30 percent of the people who have an aortic dissection don't even make it to the hospital," said Doctor Stephanie Mick, Cleveland Clinic heart surgeon.
Doctor Mick is Susan's surgeon.
"Typically, the most common thing people would feel would be a severe chest pain," she said. "It'll definitely get your attention."
According to the CDC's most recent numbers, aortic dissections kill nearly 10,000 Americans a year.
It is more common in men. But, Susan was a 58-year-old woman who was the picture of health -- or so she thought.
"We as women always want to take care of everyone else," she said.
Hindsight is 20/20 and Susan said all the signs were there. She had erratic blood pressure. She was caring for her ailing husband and working nonstop.
She also only later learned of another big red flag: family history.
"The problem with high blood pressure is it doesn't feel like anything and you feel fine," said Dr. Mick. "That's why they call it the silent killer. You don't feel anything bad with hypertension, but what you end up feeling are the effects downstream."
Doctor Mick said to know your numbers and get regular checkups.
Susan now takes blood pressure medication and is working to lower the stress in her life as well.
"I'm here today, alive, to tell you and your viewers, you got to listen," she said. "Listen to that little voice in the back of your head that says something's not right."