U-M patient counts blessings each Christmas

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

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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

Two-time aortic aneurysm survivor shares her experience

One woman's story of hope

Lori Eslick is a two-time aortic aneurysm survivor. Her heart issues began as a newborn when she was diagnosed with a heart murmur and bicuspid aortic valve disease (a congenital abnormality).

Years later, at age 49, a routine EKG led to the diagnosis of an ascending aortic aneurysm.

An ascending aortic aneurysm (also known as a thoracic aortic aneurysm) occurs in the part of the aorta in the chest, situated above the diaphragm, a muscle that helps you breathe. Approximately 25 percent of aortic aneurysms are thoracic, with the rest occurring in the abdomen. Thoracic aortic aneurysms can rupture and lead to severe internal bleeding, resulting in death. They don’t always cause symptoms, even when they’re large. Only half of all people who have thoracic aortic aneurysms notice any symptoms. Continue reading

Wrapping up heart month: Three women share their joy, straight from the heart

A look back at how three U-M patients are doing today

As we near the end of Heart Month, here’s a look back at some of the patients who shared their U-M experiences with us in 2014. All three have a story to tell about the joy in their hearts, thanks in part to the doctors at the University of Michigan.

Baby Ethan is thriving

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Baby Ethan, with brother Emiliano, is thriving.

Last May, a special team joined hundreds of U-M employees on the campus of Eastern Michigan University for the American Heart Association’s 2014 Washtenaw County Heart Walk/5K Run. This effort to help fight heart disease and stroke was particularly meaningful for the team named  “Ethan’s Emissaries.”

The 26-member group was walking in honor of an unborn child who had been diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare condition in which the left ventricle of the heart is severely underdeveloped. Ethan was born May 22, just 12 days after the walk in his honor.

Today, according to his mother, Betty Esquivel, a medical assistant in U-M’s bone marrow transplant clinic, he is thriving. As expected, Ethan has faced several operations, including surgery four days after birth for a heart shunt and again five months later to remove the shunt, which he had outgrown.

Betty says Ethan requires extra precautions to keep him from getting a cold or virus, which could affect his heart. Otherwise, he’s doing even better than U-M doctors originally thought. “He’s gaining weight and isn’t too far behind in his development,” Betty says proudly.

Betty, her husband Andres and their two-year-old son Emiliano have welcomed Ethan into the family with open arms, thankful for the joy this special child has brought to their lives.

Read more about Ethan’s story. Continue reading

Ascending aortic aneurysm patient is back to living

Two-time survivor shares her story and artwork

Lori Eslick blog

Lori Eslick enjoys plein air (open air) painting.

Lori Eslick had her first aortic root aneurysm repair in 2009 at age 49. As a regular runner and active mom, she had no symptoms related to the ascending aortic aneurysm that was growing. Her heart issues began as a newborn when she was diagnosed with a heart murmur and bicuspid aortic valve disease (a congenital abnormality).

When she became pregnant at age 39, a preventive EKG revealed no additional heart concerns. Then, 10 years later, another routine EKG ordered by Lori’s new general physician detected a problem that ultimately led to the diagnosis of her ascending aortic aneurysm. Her doctor recommended she go to the University of Michigan.

Lori was first seen by Dr. Himanshu Patel in November 2009 and underwent aortic surgery later that month. After her surgery, Dr. Patel and his team kept a close eye on Lori’s condition, examining her on a regular basis. Then, four years later, a second aneurysm was discovered just below where her previous aneurysm had been repaired — again with no outward symptoms. Continue reading

Genetic defect brings family together

Aleo family credits Dr. Himanshu Patel for expert, compassionate care

Aleo family members wait for Denise Aleo to come out of surgery for a congenital heart defect

Family wears “We Love Team Patel” t-shirts to show support

Support and teamwork take on a whole new meaning with the Aleo family. Their dedication to one another is apparent when you hear their story, which began five years ago and continued at the University of Michigan on April 15, 2013.

On that particular day, 15 members of the family gathered at the hospital to support 53-year-old Denise Aleo as she was wheeled into surgery for a condition shared by her mother, brother, sister, nieces, nephews and other relatives. The condition, called thoracic aortic genetic disorder, is caused by a defect in the SMAD3 gene, and can result in life-threatening aortic issues. It is a topic the family knows all too well.

But it wasn’t just the size of the group that drew attention that April morning. It was also the fact that each member of the Aleo family wore a maize and blue t-shirt shirt that read: “We Love Team Patel.” The words were in reference to University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center surgeon Dr. Himanshu Patel, who would perform surgery on Denise that day.

Continue reading