U-M patient counts blessings each Christmas

Catching up with U-M patient Don Heydens after treatment in 2007 for life-threatening aneurysm

Don Heydens 1 blog

Each Christmas Eve, Don Heydens and his wife, Ellen, reflect on what could have been the last night of Don’s life. He’s been marking the anniversary of his descending thoracic aortic aneurysm for 10 years now and each time, he counts his blessings that he’s alive.

On Christmas Eve 2004, Don returned from a relative’s home and found he had plenty of gift-wrapping to do, keeping him up later than normal. For this, he is grateful. “I began to lose feeling in my hands and feet, then in my legs and arms,” he says. “If I had gone to bed, I may not have been aware of what was happening.” Don called his sister, a registered nurse, who understood the severity of his condition and advised him to call 911 immediately. Continue reading

Top stories from 2015

Making discovering, helping our neighbors and people across the globe battle heart disease

This year the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center continued to lead a treatment transformation in heart valve replacement, made new discoveries, and gave hope to our neighbors and people across the globe who are battling cardiovascular disease. These stories reflect a fundamental truth: Every step forward is a step we take together. Best wishes for a happy, healthy 2016!

UMHS10545YearInReview_blueTAVR ticker hits 600

It’s been a treatment transformation: fixing heart valves without surgery for patients with stiffened and narrowed aortic valves. The cardiac teams at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center have performed more transcatheter aortic valve replacements than most hospitals in the country. That’s 600 lives changed and counting.

From Egypt to Ann Arbor

Nassef Matoshaleh, and his wife, Wafaa, explored a handful of hospitals in the world – including the U.K., Germany, France and Canada and the U.S. — for aortic surgery. Their small family prayed the trip to the U-M to treat Nassef’s ascending aortic aneurysm would bring him back home. And it did. “The U-M team worked like an orchestra… to get out the most beautiful symphony you could ever hear. It’s like the symphony of life,” says Wafaa.

Back in the game

Without a human heart, Stanley Larkin visited a water park this summer and plays basketball with family and friends. Born with a heart defect, he’s spent a year with a Syncardia total artificial heart, the first person to leave a Michigan hospital without a heart and putting him in a rare group of patients worldwide using the device. A backpack-sized power supply keeps the technology — and Stanley — going until he gets a heart transplant.

Seeing double at the CVC

Twins enjoyed comic confusion at the CVC which was home to three sets of identical twins. Fourth year medical students – Corey Foster and Ben Foster – completed their rotations at the CVC. Courtney Clark and Rachel Scheich are both nurse practitioners in the CVC ICU. We miss seeing Mike Ranella every day, but we can see a familiar face in the device clinic where his twin brother Paul works.

Lacrosse star plays on with pulmonary hypertension.

Since her diagnosis with pulmonary hypertension, a rare heart condition that interferes with blood flow to the lungs, U-M graduate Katie Mezwa says she’s focusing on living a normal 22-year-old life. Her post diagnosis life included playing for the University of Michigan Womens Club Lacrosse team as the team earned its first national title this spring. Katie earned the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association Division 1 Player of the Year Award.

“To me, that award is a testament to my hard work and dedication and a great reminder that even a heart condition can’t hold me back,” says the 2015 U-M graduate whose future goals involve improving global health.

UMHEALTHThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.

Heart attack or panic attack? Holidays can trigger both

Will you know the difference?

heart panic blog

Your heart is racing and you feel pain in your chest. Is it a heart attack or panic attack?

Distinguishing between the two can be difficult, especially if you’ve never experienced either, says Dr. William Meurer of the University of Michigan Health System Emergency Department. “There’s an overlap in symptoms associated with heart attack and panic attack.” And, to further complicate things, the stress and anxiety that often cause a panic attack can also lead to a heart attack. “It’s a complicated relationship,” he says.

Holiday influence

According to Dr. Meurer, there’s an increase in both panic attacks and heart attacks around the holidays. “People often blame their symptoms on holiday stress. They minimize versus maximize their symptoms. ‘Maybe I’m OK,’ they tell themselves. People tend to avoid a trip to the hospital ER because they’re with family and friends and don’t want to be a disruption, but their situation may escalate very quickly,” says Dr. Meurer.

“The important thing is to seek medical attention if you’re not sure about your health. Be vigilant and get checked out promptly. If you’re worried that it’s a heart attack, call 911 to get an immediate evaluation.”

If you’re experiencing an episode that is similar to one you’ve had in the past that turned out to be stress-related, Dr. Meurer recommends practicing deep breathing or meditation to see if the symptoms subside. “If they don’t, seek medical help,” he says.

Dr. James Froehlich, U-M Frankel Cardiovascular Center cardiologist, agrees. “Heart attacks are already often missed and we don’t want to discourage anyone who thinks they might be having a heart attack from getting checked out.” He also advises his patients to stay on their regular heart medications through the holidays, “even if you’re feeling good and think you can stop/skip them. Preventive medications are very effective. If you keep up your meds, you may never know about the heart attack you didn’t have.”

What to look for

Heart attack symptoms

  • Escalating chest pain reaching maximum severity after a few minutes
  • Constant pain, pressure, fullness or aching in the chest area
  • Pain or discomfort that travels or radiates from the chest to other areas, such as one or both arms, abdomen, back, shoulders, neck, throat or jaw
  • Pain that is brought on by exertion
  • Shortness of breath

Panic attack symptoms

  • Increased heart rate
  • Sharp or stabbing chest pain that lasts only 5-10 seconds
  • Pain that is localized to one small area
  • Pain that usually occurs at rest
  • Pain that accompanies anxiety
  • Pain that is relieved or worsened when you change positions
  • Pain that can be reproduced or worsened by pressing over the area of pain

The bottom line

“Be vigilant and get checked out promptly,” says Dr. Meurer. “If you think it’s a heart attack, call 911 to get an immediate evaluation. And the added bonus is that ERs aren’t as busy on a holiday, so there’s no reason not to come to the ER if you suspect a heart attack.”

Take the next step:

Frankel-informal-vertical-sigThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.

Healthy holiday eating …

8 tips for a healthier you!

holiday eating blog

Many of us think gaining weight goes hand in hand with holiday celebrations, but studies show that between mid-November and early January, the average person actually gains about one pound — not the 5 pounds we often expect to see on the scale. But most people never lose that one pound they may have gained during the cold months, and find that after 10-plus years, those pounds have added up. The key is to make sure healthy holiday eating is part of your routine.
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U-M TAVR patient cheered by 100,000+ football fans

WW II Veteran and U-M patient honored as “Veteran of the Game”


Ray Tollefson is familiar with the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center, having undergone a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR)  procedure in 2013. He represents one of the more than 600 U-M TAVR patients to date who are living more fulfilled lives, thanks to the experienced team of interventional cardiologists and cardiac surgeons at the Frankel CVC.


A member of the Michigan Marching Band stops to congratulate Veteran of the Game Ray Tollefson.

And, because of his TAVR procedure, the 91-year-old World War II U.S. Army Ranger veteran is now familiar with the U-M football field after being honored as “Veteran of the Game” before the University of Michigan/Ohio State University game on November 28. The full day consisted of a variety of events for Ray, including a tailgate experience, a salute from the Michigan Marching Band, which stopped to honor him, and his introduction as “Veteran of the Game” before a packed stadium of more than 100,000.
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Gamers Thrombosis: How playing too long can be dangerous

Advice for preventing dangerous blood clots during video game marathons

DVT blog

During long holidays and snow days, it’s tempting to use the time playing video games. With online players in different time zones, the urge is strong to play for hours and hours. But doctors warn of a health risk of playing too long in the virtual landscape: gamers thrombosis.

University of Michigan Emergency Medicine physician Dr. Steven Kronick says there’s a rise in cases of gamers thrombosis, blood clots called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) that result from inactivity during game play.

“Gaming can be distracting and the hours can just melt away,” says Dr. Kronick. “Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for developing venothromboembolic disease or blood clots. It doesn’t matter if you are sitting on a very long air flight or on your living room couch. It’s the same mechanism.”

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