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Second opinion can improve or save patients' lives
Not long ago, John Chmurak had trouble enjoying life. He had survived three heart attacks in the early 1990s, but by late 2009 John was significantly overweight, diabetic and had high blood pressure. He was often tired and would occasionally feel heaviness in his chest while walking the family dog in their Chicago neighborhood.
John told his problems to his cardiologist, who assured him that in-depth testing was unnecessary. “He just said I should come back in a year for my next annual checkup.”
But John’s wife and daughter were uncomfortable with that advice, so they brought him to the Loyola Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine in Park Ridge. The Center offers the highest level of expertise and care to the residents of northwest Chicago and nearby suburbs.
“If a patient is not getting better or if a diagnosis is in doubt, a second opinion is always needed,” said Fred Leya, MD, Loyola’s medical director for interventional cardiology and a professor of cardiology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine (Stritch). “Before a major surgery or angioplasty, it’s a good idea to ask for a second opinion at another institution, one with clinicians who have a high level of expertise to treat the patient.”
“Dr. Leya took his time with me. I didn’t feel rushed as I described how I was feeling,” John recalled. “I trusted him.”
Dr. Leya’s examination uncovered serious issues missed by John’s first cardiologist. With carotid Doppler ultrasound, a non-invasive test that uses sound waves to measure blood flow through the carotid arteries, Dr. Leya revealed blockages that were limiting blood flow to John’s brain. Of even greater concern were the severe blockages in John’s coronary arteries, first diagnosed through a nuclear stress test in Park Ridge and then confirmed with an angiogram in the catheterization lab in Maywood.
John learned that his problems were greater than constant fatigue. The 71-year-old retiree was at significant risk of a sudden and potentially fatal heart attack.
The next step is standard for all Loyola patients with blocked arteries in the heart: a consult between an interventional cardiologist and a cardiothoracic surgeon. “We function as a multi-specialty team, sitting down together to review each patient’s films,” Dr. Leya said. “Frequently open-heart surgery can be avoided if people work as a team. But for John we agreed that an operation was his best option.”
In January 2010, Mamdouh Bakhos, MD, professor and chair, thoracic & cardiovascular surgery, Stritch, performed the quadruple bypass surgery that has returned John to an active lifestyle. “I felt the same kind of trust for Dr. Bakhos as I did for Dr. Leya,” John said. “He was very nice, explaining why I needed surgery. He made me feel everything would be OK.”
Over the past year, John has completed a cardiac rehabilitation program, changed his diet and started exercising. Today he takes medications for his diabetes and to reduce the risk of blockage in his carotid arteries, but he no longer needs blood pressure pills. John loves to garden, takes long walks, spends time with his family and enjoys caring for his three-year-old grandson.
Barbara, his wife of 35 years, spoke for her entire family when she said, “His care was outstanding. Loyola saved my husband’s life.