Seeing double at the Frankel CVC

Twins enjoy "comical confusion"

Mike (left) and Paul Ranella blog

Mike and Paul Ranella

Patients and employees at the U-M Frankel Cardiovascular Center often think they’re seeing double … but it’s likely they’re seeing just fine.

That’s because the CVC is “home” to three sets of identical twins:

  • Mike Ranella is the CVC program manager and his brother Paul Ranella is a CVC device nurse.
  • Corey Foster and Ben Foster are both 4th year medical students who recently completed their rotations at the CVC.
  • Courtney Clark and Rachel Scheich are both nurse practitioners in the CVC ICU.

The six agree that things get confusing at times — mainly in a humorous kind of way. Mike Ranella describes it as “fun confusion” when someone passes him and moments later sees his brother on another floor.  Perplexed looks and comments like, “Didn’t I just see you?” are common, he says.

Then there’s the confusion when one of Paul’s patients wants to talk to Mike about a medical issue. “They often feel compelled to share health information, even when they realize I’m not Paul.” Some patients have even given Mike a hug, he admits. “My brother is well liked, which is a good thing. I’d much rather get a hug from one of his patients than a hit,” he jokes. Continue reading

Running with my hero to stomp out sarcoma

"We finished in just under 38 minutes, amazingly not last!"

Dr. Leja and Maire

Dr. Monika Leja with Maire Kent at Sunday’s Stomp out Sarcoma run.

I ran with my hero today! It would be a breeze for most 24-year-olds like my patient Maire Kent to take part in the Stomp Out Sarcoma 5K run and be first at the finish line.

But Maire was diagnosed with a cardiac sarcoma in 2012. Cardiac sarcoma is a rare malignant tumor that grows directly from the heart.

The condition has taken its toll on her and there was no way she would have the stamina to run the three miles even though a few years ago she ran a marathon. So I agreed to cover the distance for both of us, pushing her in a wheelchair decked out in maize and blue.

At one point, Maire had to help push us along the last hill because I was running out of gas in the heat.  Together we made it to the finish line. This gives us hope that working together we can overcome this deadly disease!

The money raised Sunday, through the dedication of volunteers, supports research at the Sarcoma Program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

There are many different types of sarcomas that attack bone, muscle, fat, or cartilage. Most of these patients are young and in the prime of their lives and many are even small children.

I grew up in Michigan, and returned to be part of the University’s new Cardio-Oncology program. More of these programs are starting across the country and cardiologists like me work with cancer specialists to minimize the impact of chemo and radiation on the heart.  The U-M’s program is unique in that we also have the expertise to care for those with heart tumors.

During our long work weeks, physicians can get caught up in the daily grind of medical records, rounds, and meetings. Sometimes we forget why we are here:  the privilege of taking care and being a part of our patients’ lives and families.

This summer has been no different in term of work hours but time spent on behalf of patients has taken me from the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center to the trails winding through Hudson Mills park.

Today I was pushing Maire, but she and the many other patients and families out there, are pushing me to find answers and improve outcomes.

Ironically we finished several paces behind Anne Maxwell, a 25-year-old from Clarkston diagnosed last spring with a sarcoma found in her hip. Anne ran this weekend, not just in Sunday’s Stomp Out Sarcoma 5K, but in a 15K Bastille Day run the day before.

Maire is my hero and she keeps me going with her courage and smile. We finished in just under 38 minutes, amazingly not last!




Monika Leja, M.D., sees patients in the Cardio-Oncology program at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center.  She treats cardiac tumors and collaborates with cancer specialists to prevent or minimize heart damage caused by chemotherapy and radiation.


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The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit the Heart and Vascular page on




Laughter is the best (heart) medicine

Sense of humor reduces stress, studies show

older couple laughing

Laughter can be as good for your heart as running in place

It turns out there’s a lot of truth to the old adage, laughter is the best medicine. And when it comes to heart health, those words are particularly true, according to Dr. Kim Eagle, director of the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center. He likens the benefits of laughter to running in place: “It boosts endorphin levels, quickens the pulse rate, stimulates blood circulation, activates muscles and increases oxygen intake.”

Laughter even made the American Heart Association’s list of top 10 ways to keep your heart healthy. And studies also show that a good attitude and a sense of humor reduce stress, lower depression and help your body and mind to heal.

Laughter is a good thing, both physically and emotionally, says Dr. Eagle. “Heart disease patients who are depressed often have worse outcomes because they tend to not follow up with their doctors, skip taking their medications and don’t exercise — three very critical aspects of heart disease recovery.”

Many patients facing major cardiovascular disease are able to step back from their situation and find humor, says Dr. Eagle. “People who can laugh are generally happy and more positive — and are able to deal with their disease in a positive way.” And, people who laugh often have better physical outcomes, he adds.

University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center Logo - blueThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit the Heart and Vascular page on

Hypertension No Match for DASH Diet

U-M study shows drop in blood pressure after just 21 days

Hypertension was no match for the DASH diet during a University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center study in which patients with a certain type of heart failure were given heat-and-serve low-sodium (low-salt) meals for three weeks.

Tipped over salt shaker

Hypertension was no match for the DASH diet during a study in which patients with a certain type of heart failure were given heat-and-serve low-sodium (low-salt) meals for three weeks.

In just 21 days of following a low-sodium Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, patients with  “diastolic” heart failure saw a drop in blood pressure similar to taking an anti-hypertension medicine. Some patients were able to cut back on their diuretics and anti-hypertensives.

Diastolic heart failure (a type of heart failure that occurs even though the heart’s muscle-pumping function is not weakened), happens when the heart becomes stiff and does not relax enough between beats. This condition makes up more than half of older adults with heart failure, but has no standard treatment. University of Michigan cardiologist Scott L. Hummel, M.D., M.S, wondered if, based on animal studies, diet could make a big difference for these patients.

Continue reading