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Simple test leads to complex, life-saving surgery for firefighter
Last year David Traiforos decided it was time to get healthy. He improved his diet, increased his exercise and shed 35 pounds. He also had some tests common to men over 50, including a prostate exam, a colonoscopy and a heart scan. While the scan showed no blockages in his coronary arteries, it may have saved his life nonetheless.
"The heart scan, followed by a CT scan and an angiogram, revealed that David had two serious problems," said Mamdouh Bakhos, MD, FACS, professor and chair, thoracic & cardiovascular surgery, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine (Stritch). "His aortic valve had deteriorated so severely that it needed to be replaced. Of greater concern was a very large aneurysm (a weakening of a blood vessel) on his aorta near his heart. When a referring physician told me the size and location of the aneurysm, I knew that David's life was in immediate danger, so I made time to see him quickly."
For a young, healthy and active person to learn that his life could end in minutes was shocking. "Dr. Bakhos said that the aneurysm could rupture very easily," David remembered. "A sneeze or a cough could do it."
David underwent an operation to repair the aneurysm and implant a mechanical aortic valve at Loyola the next day. Two months after his surgery, he was back at work as the fire chief of the Franklin Park Fire Department.
"I guess I got a second chance on life," David said. "I thought the reason I was always tired was from being out of shape. Then I learned I needed open-heart surgery. When I heard that people from around the country come to Loyola for this operation, I felt better. I liked Dr. Bakhos as soon as I met him. I told him I wanted to touch the hands that would be holding my heart. It surprised him, but then he extended his hands to me."
"I remember that," Dr. Bakhos said with a smile. "I also remember reassuring him and his wife, Gloria, that while his problems were serious and that treating an aortic aneurysm is not an everyday occurrence, we have lots of experience, and we can restore him to good health."
David also found comfort in other aspects of Loyola's hospital. He is thankful for care he received from Loyola's nurses. He is grateful that a chaplain prayed with him and his wife in the pre-surgery room, and then prayed with his mother and daughter during the operation. Seeing the crosses throughout the hospital also put him at ease. "They reminded me that I had nothing to really worry about."
Dr. Bakhos removed the aneurysm and used a mechanical device to replace his aortic valve. "We make the decision to repair or replace a valve on a case-by-case basis," explained Dr. Bakhos. "David's valve was damaged beyond repair, so our next step was to decide on a tissue valve or a mechanical valve. Because he is young and healthy, we chose the mechanical valve."
The job of monitoring that the valve continues to work properly, and of motivating David to stay on a course of good health, now falls to his cardiologist, Thomas McKiernan, MD, medical director, outpatient clinics at Loyola's Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, and professor of medicine, cardiology, Stritch. "The valve should last the rest of his life," Dr. McKiernan said. "Mechanical valves are very durable as long as you prevent the development of infections or other problems."
Loyola's clinics at its Maywood, Hickory Hills, Elmhurst and Oakbrook outpatient facilities help patients manage their health. Nurses measure patients' levels of blood thinners that help prevent dangerous blood clots. They educate patients on the importance of taking antibiotics prior to certain dental procedures and surgeries. And they reinforce the importance of eating well, maintaining proper weight, managing diabetes if that's an issue, and avoiding other health problems.
David admits to having a strong bias toward Loyola, based in part on taking his paramedic training at Loyola, but also because of recommendations of his colleagues. "A lot of firemen say, 'If any anything happens to me, take me to Loyola. You have the best chance of getting the best treatment.' If anything bad happens, that's where you take someone you care about."
David will complete his 13-week cardiac rehabilitation program at Loyola's Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in February 2010, the same month he turns 52. He plans to lose even more weight, enjoy walks and bike rides with Gloria and, perhaps later this year, play ice hockey. David has on-the-job plans for 2010, too. "I still like to 'run with the dogs,' to do what the young guys in the fire department are doing."
"David exudes a positive attitude," said Dr. McKiernan. "Positive people do better, so I don't think this will slow him down at all."