Posts Tagged ‘patient story’

Surviving an Aortic Dissection: A Patient Survivor’s Story

Karthik Kasirajan, MD

Karthik Kasirajan, MD

In his last blog post, Dr. Veeraswamy outlined what aortic dissection is, what the symptoms are and what you can do to prevent it. Although it is best to detect aortic dissections early, it is possible to survive one. Emory Healthcare patient, Gene Winfrey is a living example. At another local hospital Gene was told he wouldn’t survive surgery to repair the aortic dissection. But Gene is tenacious and decided to schedule an appointment at Emory and he is glad he did. Gene not only survived surgery he is thriving and traveling all over the country as an evangelist. Gene says, “I tell people everywhere I go about Emory and about what happened to me. I am living proof about what happened.”

As mentioned in the last aortic dissection blog, men ages 60 – 70 are most likely to have an aortic dissection and it is relatively uncommon but it is the most common aortic emergency we see at the Emory Heart & Vascular Center. Most patients come in urgently with severe chest or abdominal pain. If not recognized and treated immediately, the tear will go through blood vessel and it is unlikely the patient will survive.

Gene knew he needed help and needed it quickly. We explained to him that if the outer layer of the aorta burst, he would have little chance of living through the dissection. We were adamant that the stent needed to be put in right away.

Luckily for Gene, treatments have changed from the past so he was a candidate for a more minimally invasive method to treat the dissection called endostents. In the past the only way to treat an aortic dissection was through open surgery. The patient benefits from the less invasive ways of performing surgery and is typically able to get home more quickly and return to work sooner with limited complications. Emory is unique in that we have access to devices that are not yet on the market.

Gene had run the Peachtree Road Race 27 straight times before this and wanted to make sure he could maintain his active lifestyle that included riding horses, playing golf and playing tennis.  I advised Gene that he could do whatever he feels like doing, and he is doing just that. He is one of the most active 88-year-old persons  I have ever met!!

Gene summarizes his experience at Emory as follows “They (the other hospital) said we can’t do it. You can’t live through it. I came here and Dr. K said you can. I am 88 years old and still living. I advise anyone to come to Emory, I think it is the greatest in the world.”

Check out our video about Gene and his story below, or visit our website to learn more about Aortic Dissection & Gene’s story:

About Karthik Kasirajan, MD:
Dr. Kasirajan specializes in surgery and vascular surgery, and has been practicing at Emory since 2003. Several of his areas of interest include peripheral arterial disease, endovascular surgery, abdominal and aortic aneurysm, vascular surgery, thrombotic disease, and stroke. Dr. Kasirajan holds many organizational leadership memberships, including the European Society for Vascular Surgery, International College of Surgeons, and the Peripheral Vascular Surgical Society, and is widely published in publications such as the Journal of Endovascular Therapy and the Journal of Vascular Surgery.

Heart Transplant Patient Success Story

Dr. Vega, Emory Heart and VascularHerbert Grable was diagnosed in 2000 with congestive heart failure. When he was diagnosed, it came as a shock and he was scared. He didn’t know what caused his heart to fail and he didn’t know what heart failure treatments were available for him. He was very grateful to have the Emory Heart & Vascular Center near his home, as it offered a unique treatment for patients who are not candidates or can’t get a heart transplant right away – called Ventricular Assist Devices (VAD).

As we have discussed in previous blogs, a VAD is a mechanical device that is implanted in the heart. This pump takes over the function for the ventricle and circulates blood to the rest of the body. The goal of a VAD is to improve a patient’s survival and quality of life while they wait for a transplant (if they are a candidate for a transplant). The number of heart failure patients is tremendous, and with the number of transplants regulated per year at around 2,500 the VAD is another option for non-transplantable candidates as well.

After receiving the VAD, Herbert smiled and joked that he felt like himself again. His wife commented that the she got the “old Herbert back.” After eight months with the VAD, Herbert was again upgraded to the transplant list. One week later, he received the call  from Emory Transplant Center that a heart was available for him. Before transplant, Herbert was scared but he had faith in Emory and was determined that everything would work out. His wife was hopeful and optimistic that Herbert would be with her for many more years and would possibly see some grand kids one day.

Transplants are complex procedures. Emory transplant physicians are experts in their field and aware of all possible nuances that occur with each individual transplant patient. Should an unusual complication arise during a transplant experience, Emory has the skill to reach the most optimal outcome for a patient.

After Herbert received the heart transplant, he was able to live a normal lifestyle and do everything he always did before he was diagnosed with heart failure. He sums up his care “Emory is not just hospital, they care about the patient as well. I am so glad to have a place like Emory to treat me for this condition.”

For more information about heart transplant after the VAD procedure, watch this video:

About Dr. Vega

Dr. David Vega is a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Emory Heart & Vascular Center and the Director of Emory’s Heart Transplant program at Emory University Hospital. He implanted Georgia’s first dual pump ventricular assist device (VAD) in 1999 to serve as a bridge to heart transplantation, a procedure that initiated Emory’s ongoing national position at the forefront of the use of mechanical circulatory assist devices. In 2006, he implanted the state’s first VAD as a form of destination therapy for individuals who are ineligible for or are unwilling to undergo a heart transplant, and in 2007 he implanted an even smaller VAD for the same purpose that featured an automatic speed control mode designed to regulate pumping activity based on different levels of patient or cardiac activity.

Coronary Artery Disease Treatment – A Patient Story

Michael Halkos, MDMichael Armstrong joined the gym to get some aerobic exercise and lose some weight. One day, he was walking on a treadmill when he noticed pain in his chest as well as pain that went up into his throat. The pain then began radiating down his left arm.

Michael has worked in the health care industry for many years, so he quickly realized what he was experiencing could be signs of a heart attack, and he consulted his primary care physician. Michael told his physician about the symptoms and the physician quickly referred him to me at Emory University Hospital Midtown for an innovative procedure called hybrid coronary revascularization.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post about hybrid coronary revascularization, this procedure is typically performed on a patient who has blockage in the artery in the front of the heart and one other blood vessel with disease in it. This unique approach is a best of both world’s strategy where we combine durability of surgery with the minimally invasive nature of a procedure called stenting. Optimal therapy with this minimally invasive approach translates into shorter recovery time, potentially fewer complications and a quicker return to work. Emory is one of only a few centers in the nation offering this procedure.

Michael Armstrong sums up his experience:

“I didn’t know what to expect, this was my first hospitalization in my life but I was comfortable getting my heart care at Emory University Hospital Midtown. Dr. Halkos had done more than 100 robotic surgeries so I was very impressed with that. Dr. Halkos knows the road you are about to take together is treacherous and comes across as very knowledgeable while still friendly and empathetic.  Now shortly after the surgery, I am back to full exercise, I walk around the neighborhood with my wife, and even last weekend I walked to the top of Stone Mountain with a friend. That made me feel good. I know Emory talks about quality patient and family centered care, but actually experiencing it was pretty wonderful.”

Watch Michael’s story in this video.

Do you have questions or feedback? If so, please leave them in the comments section below.

About Michael Halkos, MD
Dr. Halkos is a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Emory Heart & Vascular Center. He specializes in minimally invasive adult cardiac surgery. He is leading the innovative Emory work with the hybrid coronary revascularization procedure being performed at Emory University Hospital Midtown. He finished his Medical School, Residency and Fellowship at Emory University School of Medicine and is a member of the American Medical Association.

Back to Life After an Aortic Aneurysm – Part II

As part of our commitment to providing the best patient-centered care possible, our team of physicians, nurses, specialists, and staff make advancing the medical possibilities a priority each and every day. There are only so many factors we can control, however, and sometimes, it is perfect timing coupled with the efforts of our team that make treatment for our patients that much more successful.

Warren "Allen" Owens

Take Allen Owens, for example. He may be someone you’re familiar with if you frequent our heart & vascular blog. We introduced you to him in a post a few weeks back detailing his remarkable story. Prior to arriving at Emory, Allen experienced 8 heart attacks, 21 congestive heart failures, had 13 stents placed, had 5 bypass surgeries (4 of them failed) and had taken 4 life flights (emergency helicopter rides to the hospital). On each life flight he was not expected to make it to the hospital because of his critical status.

It may sound like Allen faced a run of unfortunate health bad luck. After all, he did what he could to prevent a decline in his health. He’s not a smoker or a drinker, and considered himself to be a relatively healthy adult.

Perhaps surprisingly, it was when his local doctors were out of answers that Allen’s life (and luck) changed for the better. He was referred to Emory and last summer, received another diagnosis to add to his plate – Allen’s abdominal aorta was weakening and he had developed an aortic aneurysm that was ballooning and could burst at any time. You may be wondering, what’s lucky about that? The majority of aortic aneurysms are found after they burst, and fortunately, doctors caught Allen’s prior to this happening.

What’s more, Allen’s health wasn’t strong enough to undergo another heart surgery to repair the problem. Once again, Allen’s luck was changing for the better. At about the same time that Allen was diagnosed with his aortic aneurysm, Dr. Joseph Ricotta, a vascular surgeon, had just transitioned his career at the Mayo Clinic to working at Emory Healthcare. At the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Ricotta had perfected a new procedure to treat aortic aneurysms, an alternative aortic aneurysm treatment he brought with him to Emory– the use of fenestrated and branched aortic endografts, a procedure Dr. Ricotta has performed approximately 120 times thus far.

Six months after performing this revolutionary procedure for Allen, Dr. Ricotta told Fox 5 News the graft is working perfectly, “The aneurysm’s shrinking actually. There’s no evidence of leak and all the branches to his intestines and kidneys are open and look very good.”

The procedure and Dr. Ricotta’s presence in Atlanta have hopefully put an end to this Cherokee County native’s run of bad luck. It’s Allen’s hope now, that with his condition under control, he will be able to qualify for a heart transplant. “This will be eight years in April, that I’m not supposed to have,” Allen told Fox 5 News.

You can learn more about the fenestrated and branched aortic endograft procedure for aortic aneurysms, and learn more about the story of Allen Owens by watching this video from Fox 5 News below:

“Back to Life” After an Aortic Aneurysm

September 2, 2010 was a memorable day for Emory patient Warren (Allen) Owens when he realized years of heart trauma were behind him.

Previously, Mr. Owens had experienced 8 heart attacks, had been diagnosed 21 times with congestive heart failure, had 13 stents placed, had 5 bypass surgeries ( (4 of them failed) and had taken 4 life flights (emergency helicopter rides to the hospital). On each life flight he was not expected to make it to the hospital because of his critical status.

Mr. Owens was referred to Emory after physicians at his local hospital were no longer able to help him with his life-threatening condition, an 8-cm aortic aneurysm that was at risk of rupturing. At Emory, patients with complex aortic aneurysms like Mr. Owens now have an option they did not have before – the fenestrated and branched endograft procedure that we discussed in a previous blog post. Now over a year later Mr. Owens is able to perform the daily tasks that he could not do before the surgery. He credits Emory physicians with “bringing him back to life.”

“I can’t put it into words how thankful I am that he was able to do what he did and bring me back to a semblance of my former life.” – Warren Owens

Listen to Mr. Owens touching story by watching the video below.

About Joseph J. Ricotta II, MD:
Dr. Ricotta specializes in vascular and endovascular surgery, and came to Emory from the Mayo Clinic in August 2010. His areas of clinical interest include fenestrated and branched endografts to treat aortic aneurysms, thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysms, peripheral aneurysms, PAD, carotid endarterectomy and carotid stenting, mesenteric and renal artery disease, and venous diseases. He has authored several journal articles and book chapters on the topic of fenestrated and branched endografts, and holds organizational leadership memberships at the American Medical Association, the American College of Surgeons, the Society for Clinical Vascular Surgery and the Society for Vascular Surgery.

Minimally Invasive Treatment for Peripheral Artery Disease: Dave Kirschner’s Story

In 2008, Dave Kirschner chose to retire from a successful 50-year career in the radio business. For years, CNN Radio listeners listened to him as he brought them up to speed on current events. Now, Kirschner spends his time working around the house, staying in touch with industry friends, and working out on the treadmill several times a week. However, when he began to notice a recurring pain shooting down the back of his right leg during exercise, he was concerned.

At first, Kirschner thought that he might have a pulled muscle, so he attempted to ease the pain with stretching, massage, and over-the-counter remedies. When nothing worked, he realized that he may have a deeper problem, and he called his internal medicine doctor.

His doctor conducted a test called an Ankle Brachial Pressure Index, or ABI—which revealed that Kirschner was suffering from peripheral artery disease (PAD).  As we’ve described in previous blog posts, PAD develops when arteries become clogged with plaque and fatty deposits that limit the flow of blood to extremities, especially the legs.

The major symptom that Kirschner was experiencing is called intermittent claudication—a pain that occurs during periods of exercise, such as walking or climbing the stairs. When we exercise our muscles require more blood flow—if there is blockage in the blood vessels, the muscles don’t receive enough blood, which causes intermittent claudication.

The first Atlanta cardiology group that Kirschner visited recommended that he have a stent inserted into his leg to unblock the artery. However, this option wasn’t appealing to him—he’d had cardiac bypass surgery in the past and wanted to avoid invasive surgery if at all possible.

Kirschner proceeded to search for other alternatives for PAD treatment—he researched the Internet and asked several of his trusted friends for advice. He even considered traveling out-of-state to find a facility that would offer what he was looking for. Finally, he spoke with a podiatrist friend, who recommended that he contact me at Emory.

After examining Mr. Kirschner, we reviewed his options and decided that a minimally invasive outpatient procedure would be the best way to treat his condition. We used a recently developed device to shave away the plaque in his arteries—the device deploys a tiny rotating blade on the tip of a catheter to remove plaque from the arterial wall. This procedure has been extremely successful in helping patients to prevent blood flow problems that could potentially result in something as serious as amputation.

The device doesn’t stretch the blood vessel wall, unlike the use of stents. It is used to treat calcified and non-calcified lesions of any length. Further, it is minimally invasive and doesn’t require that we open up the leg.

Kirschner’s procedure took less than two hours. When he asked me how long I thought it would be before he could go back to working out, he was shocked when I replied, “How about tomorrow?” He left our office the same day that he went in, with only a tiny incision at the top of his leg, covered by a band-aid.

Today, Kirschner can hit the gym and exercise with no pain. His workout regimen consists of hour-long walks, which he enjoys without any problems. We’re thrilled that we were able to treat his condition with our innovative technology, and we look forward to achieving the same results with future patients suffering from PAD.

About Gregory Robertson, MD:

Dr. Robertson specializes in Cardiology and Internal Medicine, and is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Emory. Some of his areas of clinical interest include atherosclerosis, cardiac catheterization, cardiovascular disease, valve disease, and peripheral artery disease. Dr. Robertson holds an organizational leadership membership at The American College of Cardiology, and has contributed to multiple publications in his field.

Percutaneous Valve Replacement Provides A Second Chance at Life

My name is Peggy Adams. I’m a retired schoolteacher, and I live with my daughter and grandson in Pensacola, Florida. I am 76 years old, and I’ve been living with congestive heart failure for years. In May of this year, I came to Emory to undergo valve replacement.

I suffered from aortic stenosis for three years, and because of my heart problems I entered stage IV renal failure. Unfortunately, I have several other health problems, including diabetes, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and arthritis. Over this past year, I reached the point where I was in the emergency room every three weeks. The slightest exertion would send my system into major fatigue. Typically, I’d get out of bed, walk out the door and down the ramp to the car, and by the time I reached my car I’d have to take 10 minutes before I could stop panting. I was just so tired all the time; my eyelids would close in mid-conversation.

When I was in the hospital last December, my primary heart doctor informed me that my valve would eventually stop working completely, and that she didn’t think I had more than six months left to live. She sent me to another doctor who did a workup and predicted that it was closer to three months. He told me that I needed to have my aortic valve replaced, but that he wasn’t willing to perform the surgery due to all of my other illnesses. He believed there was no way I’d survive it.

I wasn’t willing to accept the fact that this was the end. So we started researching and heard about the program at Emory with Dr. Block and Dr. Thourani. They were performing percutaneous valve replacement, where the incision is just six inches below the breast. With this procedure, they wouldn’t have to split my chest open, so the recovery would be much easier. I have a fighting spirit, so I decided that I wanted to go for it.

It was then that we traveled to Emory to take part in an interview to participate in the study. There were all these young doctors in the room who proceeded to ask me many, many questions. I had just one question that I wanted to ask them: “How many times have you done this operation?” They replied that they had performed the surgery 35 times, and I would be number 36. When I asked them about their rate of success and failure, they said that it was 100 percent, and that they hadn’t lost any patients. This was very reassuring, and it gave me a lot of confidence.

So, we came back home to Pensacola to wait for them to call. They told us to prepare to wait eight weeks fro their decision, but after only about three weeks they called and told me I needed to get back up to Emory as soon as possible. I was there by 8 o’clock on a Tuesday morning, and they had me in surgery the next day.

The doctors were very concerned that I’d go into renal failure, or that they wouldn’t be able to wean me off of the ventilator after the surgery. But I surpassed everyone’s expectations. Not only did I not go into kidney failure, but after only three or four days after surgery, I was walking the hallways to show the nurses how well I was doing. Now, here’s the amazing thing about this surgery: On the fifth day, I no longer needed a bandage at all. It healed that quickly and that perfectly. I was feeling good. On Friday, just nine days after surgery, I was back in the car headed home.

When we went back for a follow-up five weeks after the surgery, they gave me an echocardiogram, and my heart pressures were normal. For the first time in years, I had normal heart pressures. My new valve is functioning wonderfully. I sure wish everyone with valve problems could have this procedure instead of having open-heart surgery.

Now, I can go to the movies, I can go to church on Sunday, and I can visit my sisters. Even better, I’m not sleeping through life. It’s amazing. I’m very grateful to the doctors at Emory for giving me a second chance at life.

An Innovative Emory Cardiothoracic Surgical Treatment

Imagine experiencing atrial fibrillation (A-Fib), or a quivering of the heart, half of each day, every day. Now imagine a solution—and it doesn’t involve open-heart surgery. The only after effects: a few half-inch marks beneath your armpit accompanied by a new approach to life.

In one anonymous case study, a 46-year-old female executive had suffered from seven years of disabling A-fib, and described how the symptoms of her condition resulted in “zero quality of life.” She was unable to participate in numerous medication trials due to a variety of negative reactions to anti-arrhythmic medications, and she underwent two unsuccessful percutaneous catheter ablation procedures out-of-state.

After thoroughly researching multiple surgery options across the region, she agreed to be Emory’s first patient for a trial of a “Totally Thorascopic Mini-Maze”, involving a fully endoscopic approach to bilateral pulmonary vein isolation, a procedure utilizing bipolar radiofrequency energy and “stapled occlusion” of the left atrial appendage procedures.

On February 14, the patient received three tiny incisions in her chest on each side of her armpit. We made no other incisions, and a thorascopic camera provided our only visualization. At the beginning of the procedure, we carefully measured the exit and entry areas across the pulmonary veins on each side. Electrophysiology measurements confirmed a conduction block across the pulmonary vein on each side.

We stapled the patient’s left atrial appendage shut with an endoscopic, or “no-knife” stapling device, a tool that safely closes the base of the left atrial appendage with three rows of staples and no incisions, thus reducing risk of hemorrhage. Consequently, the patient experienced very little blood loss, and the cosmetic results were ideal, as her three incision sites were hidden beneath her armpit.

The procedure allowed the patient to be discharged a mere three days after surgery, and she only experienced one single brief episode of irregular rhythm upon her return home. At both her 1-month and 3-month follow-up appointments, she showed no signs of A-fib. As part of our comprehensive follow-up, on the anniversary of her 3-month visit, we provided her with a small, portable cardiac rhythm monitor that she used for two weeks to record her heart beat 24 hours a day. The monitor also documented a complete absence of A-fib.

We’re thrilled with the success of this procedure—this pioneering patient, once disabled by severe A-fib symptoms, is enjoying life once again. For carefully selected patients, this procedure could very well be an ideal solution.

If you have questions about this procedure, or about A-fib in general, I’m happy to address them in the comments section below.

About John D. Puskas, MD:

Dr. Puskas specializes in adult cardiac surgery. He began performing coronary bypass operations on beating hearts without using a heart-lung machine in 1996. In 1997, he performed the world’s first triple off-pump bypass surgery using minimally invasive coronary artery bypass graft (mini-CABG) instrumentation. Dr. Puskas is PI of a grant from the National Institute of Health’s National Heart Lung and Blood Institute that makes Emory one of eight U.S. centers charged with rigorous scientific evaluation of newer methods of fighting cardiovascular disease.

Heart Transplant Patient Story: ‘I Feel Really Good’

A year and a half ago, Rachel Moore was readying to have her heart transplant at Emory. The surgery followed years of heart troubles, and Rachel spent two years with an LVAD as she awaited her transplant. Still, she was unsure if the heart transplant could really return her to good health. “My doctor told me, ‘After the transplant, you are going to feel so much better,'” Moore recalled recently during a phone chat. “It’s almost like I didn’t know what that meant.”

Now, 18 months later, Moore knows. “Before, when I was ill, I often wanted to just take a nap,” she said. “Now, when I’m up, I’m up all day and I exercise about five days a week for about an hour a day. I don’t feel winded or short of breath.” Moore, 45, visits Emory every three months for her check-up. Her medical team here checks her blood work and runs tests on her heart. If everything is running smoothly, she continues to take medication, and she returns in three months.

You can listen to Rachel Moore talk about how much better she feels since heart transplant surgery by clicking on the play button below:


“Sometimes I don’t know the right words to use, but I feel really good,” said Moore. “It’s almost like sometimes you have to remind yourself that there used to be something wrong. Like sometimes I’ll think to myself, ‘You had a heart transplant.'” For more information on Moore’s heart transplant and the effect it’s had on her life, visit her website at and watch this video: