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NFL reporter opens up about life-threatening heart scare at work

NFL Network reporter Kim Jones spoke about her near-death ordeal due to the heart condition known as aortic dissection suffered while she was covering a practice.
/ Source: TODAY

NFL Network reporter Kim Jones was in the midst of a routine day of work covering a Washington Redskins practice in the fall when a burning sensation in her neck began an ordeal that nearly killed her.

Jones opened up about the experience on TODAY Wednesday as part of American Heart Month as she tries to raise awareness of the dangers of aortic dissection.

Jones was covering a Washington Redskins practice in Maryland on Nov. 15 and was about to go on camera when she felt a strange sensation in her neck.

"I walked outside and I tripped,'' she said. "Immediately, I knew something was wrong, but then I knew it was something serious because this is something I'd never experienced before. So, I went back into the room, I sat down, and from that point on I was in and out of consciousness."

Redskins personnel called an ambulance, and Jones was ultimately taken to the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute in Falls Church, Virginia, when emergency personnel realized she had suffered from an aortic dissection. The condition occurs when there is a tear in the wall of the aorta, the main artery that carries blood out of the heart to the rest of the body.

"Aortic dissection never crossed my mind because I'm not sure I'd ever really heard of it before I had it,'' Jones said. "For some reason I kept saying to myself (in the ambulance), 'I'm not having a heart attack.'''

She underwent surgery that saved her life and spent almost two weeks in the hospital.

"The layers of the aorta in my body had split,'' she said. "That leaves the aorta in danger of rupturing. If that happens, I'm not here."

Jones wasn't aware of aortic dissection, which gained notice in 2003 when it caused the death of actor John Ritter at 54 years old.

"The one thing John Ritter did, unfortunately in death, was raise awareness of this, and my understanding is since then (aortic dissection) is on the minds of emergency room doctors, and (it) was for me,'' Jones said.

Trying to tell the difference between an aortic dissection and a heart attack can be difficult, according to Dr. Liam Ryan, the director of aortic surgery at Inova.

"The fact of the matter is the symptoms overlap,'' he said on TODAY. "They're very difficult for you at home to distinguish between. Crushing chest pain that's a dissection versus crushing chest pain that's a heart attack - you're not going to be able to sort that out."

Ryan said the key is to immediately contact emergency medical technicians and get to a hospital.

The condition can also be difficult to diagnose before disaster strikes. Forty percent of people who present with an aortic dissection have absolutely no risk factors at all, according to Ryan.

Jones is hoping that by sharing her story, she might be able to save others from undergoing a similar ordeal. She also is grateful for the outpouring of support after surviving with some scars on her chest as a reminder.

"People root for the athletes I cover all the time, but in this case some of them and a lot of other people were rooting for me to live,'' she said. "I certainly will never forget that feeling."