The heart of a survivor

Teacher returns after nearly-fatal aortic aneurysm
Special education teacher Deborah Corbet poses with a heart pillow she received in the hospital, with letters she received laid out on her desk. Corbet has a long scar across her chest from her heart surgery.
Special education teacher Deborah Corbet poses with a heart pillow she received in the hospital, with letters she received laid out on her desk. Corbet has a long scar across her chest from her heart surgery.
Peyron Kuschmeider

Aug. 25, 2023, 5:30 p.m.

It was just another ordinary night. She was wearing her pajamas — an NFL Hall of Fame T-shirt and Santa Clause shorts — getting ready to watch a Rangers baseball game with her husband. 

She walked to the bathroom, heard a pop in her chest and felt agonizing pain travel through her chest.

Special education teacher Deborah Corbet suffered a nearly-fatal aortic aneurysm that ruptured into an aortic dissection. What started as a normal day would end in a total of ten days in an ICU, four days in a room at Baylor Hospital and undergoing three total surgeries.

The aortic dissection

Deborah sent a text message at 5:30 p.m. She set her phone down and walked to the restroom, and as she passed her bedroom on the way, she felt a sudden, painful pop in her chest. She began to scream in pain, pleading for her husband as she collapsed to the floor.

“I [was] screaming bloody murder,” Deborah said. “I [was] telling my husband ‘call 911, it’s my heart’ and he [didn’t] hear me at first, but the dog barked. He started running to see what it was, and I just collapsed.” 

Deborah’s husband, Kevin Corbet, called 911 as Deborah lay down, screaming in pain. The ambulance did not arrive immediately, as the station closest to them was already handling another call, so a department that was farther away was dispatched to their home.

 “I [was] screaming so much that the operator [could not] hear him,” Deborah said. “It [was] taking forever for the ambulance to show up; I [was] just in so much dire pain, but I [was still] awake.”

When paramedics arrived, they couldn’t diagnose Deborah. They went back and forth on multiple ideas. A broken rib? A heart attack? Nothing seemed to match her symptoms. The paramedics drove her to Plano Presbyterian Hospital while Kevin drove separately.

 “I jumped in the car and took off,” Kevin said. “They hadn’t even loaded her into the ambulance yet. When I got to the hospital, she hadn’t arrived, so the lady at the emergency room told me to wait in the waiting room and they would call me when she got there. I was so nervous; I couldn’t sit down, I was just pacing.”

At the hospital, the medical staff ran a scan on Deborah’s chest, revealing she was suffering from an aortic aneurysm — an enlargement in her aortic artery that had ruptured. Plano Presbyterian did not have the equipment and staff to treat Deborah’s condition, so they flew her via helicopter to Baylor Hospital where she would receive immediate medical help. 

“That was the longest 30 minutes of my life,” Kevin said. “[I was] just watching my wife sit there and struggle because they couldn’t do anything to help her, and she was pleading for them to give her some pain medication.”

While waiting for the helicopter to arrive, Deborah coded — her heart stopped.

“She took a real gasping exhale, [then] she kind of leaned back and her eyes rolled back in her head,” Kevin said. “The nurse was immediately on top of her with chest compressions and all I could do was just stand there and pray. I was completely shocked. 30 minutes ago, I was just watching TV, and now my wife was dying.”

Kevin was escorted out of the room by a doctor and brought to another waiting room. The doctor told him to “pray for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

“I [thought] ‘this is it,’” Kevin said. “I didn’t get a chance to kiss her or say goodbye or tell her I love her. I was overwhelmed. I went to this [waiting] room, and I just started praying.”

The nurses were able to bring Deborah back. She was administered pain medication, even though it had the possibility of interfering with her blood pressure and escalating the situation. Doctors told Kevin they had no other choice because she was so close to dying.

“They [told me] ‘from this point forward, you have to fight,’” Deborah said. “You can’t go to sleep [and] you can’t give up — you have to fight. But, I [was] giving up. I [was] telling my husband ‘lord, take me.’ I said that for three days. It was just so painful and miserable.”

Deborah and her husband had signed Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders prior to this incident, but the papers were left in a binder at home. They signed the contracts after watching both of their parents die of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Deborah said they didn’t want that for each other but, at this moment, they realized the DNR wasn’t what they wanted.

“I just looked at my husband, and he said he hadn’t told me he loved me,” Deborah said. “I thought I needed to fight for him — I owed that to him. Even though he was there, this isn’t the sweetheart moment that we wanted: me on my bed at 95 years of age, with him sitting next to me saying ‘it’s OK, dear, you can go see the lord.’ I don’t think he was ready.” 

The helicopter arrived, and Deborah was transported from the helicopter immediately into surgery. 

“[The nurse] tore a piece of paper and she had it on her clipboard with all of her forms, and she asked for my phone number,” Kevin said. “I knew what it was for: in case [Deborah] died on the helicopter ride, they were going to call me. I kept looking at my phone like ‘don’t ring, don’t you call,’ and that was the scariest.”


Deborah was immediately taken into an operating room, where cardiologist Dr. Charles Roberts performed surgery to repair her aorta and other damaged organs. The surgery lasted three and a half hours. 

“It was shocking to see all of the tubes and lines coming out of her,” Kevin said. “I’ve never seen so many tubes on one person. It was 16-20 lines going into her, and that was really sad to see. She’s a strong woman and she pulled through all that. Little by little, they removed lines and she began to recover.”

To repair Deborah’s kidneys, they implanted a stent – a small mesh tube used to prevent blood vessels from narrowing. She was taken back into surgery two more times. Following her surgeries, her body and immune system were weakened. She was intubated for days, couldn’t speak and she lost feeling in her arm from the bypass machine. 

“I couldn’t grab anything,” Deborah said. “I couldn’t hold a fork, so I ate like a baby would. I couldn’t talk, and I [still] fumble over my words. I’m not as confident because the anesthesia did its work on me. I don’t wish this [experience] on my enemy.”

After spending two weeks in the hospital, Deborah was cleared to go home.

“The first night we came home from the hospital, I thought I was dying,” Deborah said. “I felt different because I didn’t have monitors on me, I didn’t have a nurse coming in to check on me every two hours — I was afraid. When I was laying in bed, I really felt that I might die in [that] bed and no one [would] know because I [did not] have a monitor on me.”

Deborah said she was raised religious all her life, and she believes that the power of prayer and God saved her and allowed her to live.

“I wanted to know why [God] was putting me and my husband through this pain,” Deborah said. “But now I ask, why did he save me? I’ll never know why, but I do question that, and I’m able to question that because of my faith. It has made me stronger.” 

Deborah and Kevin have to monitor her health more closely now. They have to watch her blood pressure to ensure it doesn’t go dangerously high or low, and she said she has to take life slower ever since the surgery. She is never expected to make a full recovery, but she has a life of physical therapy, doctors appointments and surgeries to help her along the way.

“Who’s to say if this is going to happen again,” Kevin said. “It’s something I still pray about. You just have to rely on the strength of God to get through this.”

Coming back to school

While Deborah was out of school, principal Dr. Amy Boughton sent an email out to the staff informing them of Deborah’s condition and absence.

“There were a few days of not really knowing,” special education teacher Karen Robinson said. “[Teachers] would see each other in the hallways and check in like ‘do you know anything?’ or ‘does anyone have any news?’ There was just a general era of worry. I was supposed to cover one of her meetings, and I just couldn’t go in because I would burst into tears.”

Deborah was teaching sophomores at the time she left. Her absence began at the beginning of the semester, and she came back during finals at the end of the year.

“I just kept thinking and kept worrying about her,” Robinson said. “[I was] hoping she would do OK and pull through, and she did, which was great. She’s a fighter.”

While Deborah was in the hospital, staff members and students made her cards, sent flowers and gift cards for food. Due to multiple food allergies, Deborah has a restrictive diet, but when she was in the hospital, her husband didn’t know how to cook those foods – making the gift cards even more beneficial to the family.

“I don’t think I would have come back if I was anywhere else,” Deborah said. “I would have just said ‘forget it’ and just quit, but this campus is very supportive and loving. This community took care of us, so it was good to come back to this campus.” 

Leave a Comment

Comments (0)

“The Hawk Eye” comment section welcomes engagement from readers. Within the comment section, we are dedicated to maintaining a respectful community; therefore, we reserve the right to protect the website from: derogatory comments, comments deemed to be spam, comments that include links that lead to harmful websites, comments using vulgar language and statements that attack another person. “The Hawk Eye” has the right to protect the website through removing comments that are viewed as harmful. We will make every effort to maintain the integrity of the comment section by allowing as many comments as possible, but if a comment violates the comment policy, we reserve the right to edit or delete the comment at any time without notice. If you feel your comment has been excluded, edited or removed by error, please contact us through our contact form.
All The Hawk Eye Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *