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Patient Testimonials

Read some first-hand accounts of patients whose lives have been changed through the efforts and dedication of St. John Providence Health System’s Heart and Vascular specialists.

Davey’s Story

For 34 years, Davey worked as a diesel mechanic, using the latest technology to fix big rigs and work on racecars. But then his life took a turn for the worse. He found himself losing mobility and was confined to bed for long periods over the next two years. His diabetes had progressed to the point that multiple arteries in his lower body were collapsing. Davey was on the brink of losing his legs.

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Davey’s Story

For 34 years, Davey worked as a diesel mechanic, using the latest technology to fix big rigs and work on racecars. But then his life took a turn for the worse. He found himself losing mobility and was confined to bed for long periods over the next two years. His diabetes had progressed to the point that multiple arteries in his lower body were collapsing. Davey was on the brink of losing his legs.

“People don’t realize how bad blocked arteries are until it happens to them,” Davey recalls. And with only 20 percent blood flow through the lower part of his body, this was a particularly bad case. “My worst fear was losing my legs. Because once it starts, there’s no stopping from amputation.”

After eight months at other facilities, Davey realized he needed another opinion. One leg was turning black, and he feared for the worst. That’s when he met a kindred spirit in Dr. Davis, one of a few cardiologists nationwide on the forefront of cutting-edge vascular technology.

“Technology means everything in the vascular field,” Dr. Davis explains. “With the technology we have at St. John Health System, we can really open blood vessels from the whole leg down to the foot, which has an impact on preventing amputations.”

Dr. Davis is unique among cardiologists because he has direct interaction with the inventors and engineers of the latest equipment. “At St. John Health System, we have a big impact on what they do and what we do here in terms of the devices.”

Davey has actually seen the impact of this technology first-hand. Awake during his operation, Davey was able to watch on-screen as Dr. Davis opened the blood vessels in his foot. “It was a miracle. He took that little-bitty drill and went all the way down and opened up those little-bitty veins. Blood was going down to my foot for the first time. And then all the other doctors ran in there to see. You should’ve seen it.”

For Dr. Davis, technology is about more than just the latest gadget. “Technology means everything to the patient. You can see it in their faces when they hear that something can be done when others have told them nothing can be done. And here we have that ability to connect the patients to the technology, which impacts their outcomes.”

Davey is back on his feet now and taking care of himself and his family. “They listened. They did what they said they were going to do. They all got together and worked as a team. And they got me going.”

Coming from a man who has spent his life getting things going, that’s no small praise.

Carmen’s Story

Carmen’s heart problems started when she was 12. Shortness of breath. Chest pains. Nausea. Vomiting. Her symptoms would strike even during simple tasks like vacuuming or walking up stairs. It was determined that she had irregular heartbeats, and she was in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices for years. But nothing was working.

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Carmen’s Story

“Mom, I don’t want you to die.”

Those are words that no mother would want to hear, but they were the words that changed Carmen’s life forever.

Carmen’s heart problems started when she was 12. Shortness of breath. Chest pains. Nausea. Vomiting. Her symptoms would strike even during simple tasks like vacuuming or walking up stairs.

It was determined that she had irregular heartbeats, and she was in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices for years. But nothing was working.

More than 30 years later, Carmen was still having heart problems. And it wasn’t just affecting her anymore—she now had a teenage daughter, who would oftentimes find herself taking care of her mother. “Having my daughter around was a big help. But I feel like I robbed her of her childhood. She always cared for me, and it’s supposed to be the other way around.”

Now in her 40s, Carmen was still experiencing episodes that landed her in the emergency room. Finally, her daughter Aimee broke down and made the statement that made Carmen take action.

“When my daughter told me she didn’t want me to die—the look in her eyes—it just broke my heart. At that moment, I knew I had to get the procedure done.”

It was risky. But after visiting St. John Health System, she found a doctor she could trust: Cardiac Electrophysiologist Dr. Machado. She felt at ease. “We talked to her about her risk, her benefit,” explains Dr. Machado. “She had to have two procedures in order to achieve a complete cure, but she was very willing to try. She had pretty much reached a dead end at that time.”

Before the procedure, Carmen’s daughter gave Dr. Machado some words of encouragement. She told him the only birthday wish she had was for her mom to be okay. “I just wanted my mother back,” says Aimee.

After the two successful procedures by Dr. Machado and the staff at St. John Health System, Carmen was symptom-free. “Dr. Machado gave me my life back. Now I’m getting married, and my daughter will walk me down the aisle knowing that I won’t have to be rushed to the ER anymore. I can run up the stairs. I can do anything.”

As for Aimee’s birthday wish, she says, “I got my gift.”

Dr. Penn’s Story

Dr. Penn has practiced medicine in Southeastern Michigan for 40 years. He’s seen it all. Illnesses. Diseases. Patients. However, there’s one thing Dr. Penn never thought he’d experience, and that was being his own patient.

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Dr. Penn's Story

Dr. Penn has practiced medicine in Southeastern Michigan for 40 years. He’s seen it all. Illnesses. Diseases. Patients. However, there’s one thing Dr. Penn never thought he’d experience, and that was being his own patient.

“I was kind of surprised by my status. I'd never been sick a day in my life.” But when Dr. Penn experienced a life-threatening heart attack, he asked to be taken to the emergency room at St. John Health System. “As a physician I could have gone anywhere I chose. I chose the St. John Health System because of the results I’ve seen before. I really like the cardiovascular team they have. I send a good number of my patients there.”

The diagnosis was not good news. Because Dr. Penn was unable to tolerate a stent, he would need cardiovascular bypass surgery. Even with his many years of experience, Dr. Penn found himself experiencing the same anxiety that so many of his patients did. “It impacted me quite a bit. I had two patients of my own on the same floor that I was on who were having the same procedure. I had explained to them that it wouldn't be much at all. I don't think I'll say that anymore.”

Fortunately, he had Dr. Goodman and his staff to rely on. “We’ve learned over the years that getting a good result means treating the entire person, the entire patient, not just the disease.” And having a health system and staff dedicated to the whole person also means investing in the latest cutting-edge technology.

“The patients do better” and they have shorter recovery times and hospital stays when operations are less invasive, explains Dr. Goodman. “They really appreciate it because we’re giving them what they deserve—the best possible care.”

And for Dr. Penn, the importance of bedside manner was never more apparent. “As a physician I was extremely impressed. I've never been on the opposite side of the bed.”

After a lifetime of healing others, Dr. Penn made a choice to be healed by the best doctors he could find. His decision, like so many of his patients, led him to the only healthcare system in the area with three Cardiovascular Centers of Excellence—St. John Health System.

Mary’s Story

Mary’s summer was getting off to a good start. It was only the beginning of July, but she had a busy season planned with family and friends. Mary’s asthma was causing her some trouble, but she was treating it with medication. “But instead of getting better, it kept getting worse until, one day, I went to the emergency room. And they told me I had congestive heart failure.” Mary was given six months to live.

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Mary's Story

Mary’s summer was getting off to a good start. It was only the beginning of July, but she had a busy season planned with family and friends. Her asthma was causing her some trouble, but she was treating it with medication.

“But instead of getting better, it kept getting worse until, one day, I went to the emergency room. And they told me I had congestive heart failure.” Mary was given six months to live.

Mary was unable to have a stent, so she had to rely on medication to unclog her arteries. As the medication was increased over the next couple of weeks, she searched for another opinion to find out if open-heart surgery was an option.

“So during that process, I was busy getting things ready for my immediate family—around the house—to sort of try to make it easier for them within that six months’ time.” But then she suffered a heart attack. The EMS rushed to her house and drove her to St. John Health System and that was the beginning of a miracle.

That’s where Mary met Dr. Martin, a St. John Health System cardiac surgeon. “He never said that surgery was impossible. He was very upfront. He told me it wasn’t going to be easy but I did have a chance. I guess what I appreciated was, he didn’t hide anything from me.”

As for Dr. Martin, he wouldn’t practice medicine any other way: “The mission of St. John Health System offers a parallel to my style of practice. The focus is caring for the patient as a total human being, rather than just caring for a problem.”

Mary underwent triple bypass surgery right away. “I came out of surgery, and the next morning they had me sitting in a chair. And everything from there was just progress.”

Mary is now in her seventh week of recovery and recently started driving again. “I’ve never seen the level of service I saw at that hospital. It was more like a family setting.” And now that her life expectancy has gone from six months to 10–15 years, Mary has a whole new outlook. “I’m so grateful that somebody was willing to say, ‘You do have a chance.’”

“I’m a heart surgeon because God wants me to be,” says Dr. Martin. “And just the satisfaction of having someone thank you for helping them get to a better place in life is worth way more than any amount of money.”

Ann's Story

Beginning in mid-February, Ann was experiencing some new aches and pains in her chest, and she also noticed a lack of energy. Every day, she’d have tightness and pain near her windpipe that would cause her to stop what she was doing and wait two to five minutes for the pain to subside. Because of the area of her discomfort, Ann assumed she just was having a little heartburn or indigestion, which was another ailment she was not familiar with.

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Ann's Story

Ann HydornAnn Hydorn, a copy editor for advertising agency Campbell-Ewald in Warren, has lent her skills many times to the quality assurance of Go Red campaign ads for the American Heart Association. Go Red For Women is a national movement that seeks to educate women about their risk for heart disease and stroke.

But, instead of just educating other women about heart disease, Ann got quite a lesson herself on Sunday, March 2. Ann, just 45 years of age, suffered a heart attack after having cardiac symptoms for nearly two weeks.

Monthly, Ann had her blood pressure checked by Kathy, one of the parish nurses at St. Louis Catholic Church in Clinton Township. On a good day, her blood pressure would be 170 over 100. On bad days, it could climb to 200 over 110. She was taking medication but it did not seem to be having much effect. And although she briefly quit smoking from 1996 to 2000, she had been a smoker since her early teens.

New Aches and Pains, Then Disbelief

Beginning in mid-February, Ann was experiencing some new aches and pains in her chest, and she also noticed a lack of energy. Every day, she’d have tightness and pain near her windpipe that would cause her to stop what she was doing and wait two to five minutes for the pain to subside. Because of the area of her discomfort, Ann assumed she just was having a little heartburn or indigestion, which was another ailment she was not familiar with.

But on the morning of Sunday, March 2, she felt pain just after sitting up in bed and thought that maybe it was a little more serious. As she got ready for church, another pain overtook her. But it wasn’t enough to stop her: She played in the handbell choir at the 8:30 a.m. Mass and handchime choir at the 10:30 a.m. Mass. Between Masses, Ann asked Kathy to check her blood pressure. It was elevated enough that Kathy suggested Ann go to the ER.

“After I finished playing, I took Kathy’s advice and went to the ER, just to check things out,” she said. “It was Sunday, so I thought I could get examined, find out if everything was okay, and not miss a day of work.

The tests were done at a community hospital, and Ann’s enzymes came back with alarming information, indicating a heart attack.

“I was in disbelief,” said Ann. “How could I have had a heart attack without knowing it?”

"Time is Muscle"

Hiroshi Yamasaki, MDHiroshi Yamasaki, MD, Medical Director of Interventional Cardiology, saw Ann in that ER and knew what had to be done. She needed a heart catheterization—immediately—and he suggested a transfer to St. John Hospital and Medical Center (SJH&MC). The local hospital could not do coronary angioplasty to open up the clogged artery.

Even though it was Sunday and there were few associates in the hospital, when EMS wheeled her to the W. Warren Heart and Circulatory Center at SJH&MC, she was amazed at how fast things went.

“I kept hearing the phrase: time is muscle,” Ann said.

The cath lab team is passionate about its door-to-balloon time, which is the time from when the patient arrives in the hospital until he or she is re-perfused. The team knows that every moment a person is without sufficient cardiac blood flow causes heart muscle to die.

During the past two years, SJH&MC has brought the "door to re-perfusion" time down from 140 minutes to near the new industry standard of 90 minutes for heart attack patients.

First, the hospital worked on a project with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to implement changes. Then they held a Rapid Improvement Event, part of the Operational Excellence initiative, to improve the process even more.

Fast Recovery

Ann was fortunate. Even though she did not come to the hospital at the first sign of her heart attack, Dr. Yamasaki was able to restore her 99 percent blocked artery using a stent to open up the clogged right coronary artery.

“The speed at which everyone worked was amazing,” said Ann. “And it was very obvious to me that they wanted the procedure done as quickly as possible…all for my benefit.”

Dr. Yamasaki was able to utilize the radial artery in the wrist for the procedure, rather than the femoral artery.

“Patients don’t have to lie flat for eight hours post-procedure with this approach,” he said. “Also, my patients have experienced a lower risk of access site-related complications, such as bleeding from the puncture site or blood transfusions,” he said.

Ann is a perfect example of a nonclassic heart attack—which is common among women. That’s why the information in the Go Red campaign is so important; it teaches women about those nonclassic symptoms and encourages them to become more heart healthy.

Two weeks later, March 17, Ann was back at work. And she’ll never look at a Go Red ad in the same way. She also shares her experience with other women, and men, to continue promoting awareness about heart disease.

Debbie’s Story

I thought I was just grieving and that life was just catching up with me. But at my next routine test, the numbers had changed. My disease was progressing. Almost simultaneously to hearing this news, my symptoms worsened. When I woke up in the morning I felt like I had a small child sitting on my chest and by the end of the day that child had become a very large adult. I couldn't walk as far or as fast as I had in previous years and walking up a flight of stairs made me sick to my stomach.

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Debbie's Story

Debbie HobanHow It All Started

It all started when I was just 28 years old. My son Jeff was 5 years old and I had just given birth to my daughter, Jennifer. Jennifer is now 21 and serves on the U.S.S. Bataan in the United States Navy. Jeff is 26, married and father of two boys, Isaac and Jacob - my grandkids.

While juggling the normal tasks of any busy mom, my mother phoned me. At that time phones had cords and they were attached to the wall so you couldn't go very far away from the phone while having a conversation. Unless of course, you had one of those super long cords and I didn't. Jennifer was a bit fussy, so with her on my shoulder I paced back and forth while talking to my mom.

All of a sudden I felt really strange. I felt this pressure in my chest followed by a feeling that I was falling, and I was. Fortunately for me, someone had left their dining room chair pulled out from the table - a real pet peeve of mine. The chair caught my fall and probably saved me from dropping Jennifer.

After convincing my mom that I was okay, she convinced me to see a doctor. After a number of tests, I was told that I had Mitral Stenosis. I was told that while this condition is serious it did not pose any life threatening risks for me at that time. However, it was serious enough that I needed to be monitored on a regular basis.

Living With The Condition

For the next 20 years I did as recommended and received an annual test to monitor my condition. Year after year the results were the same…mild to moderate risk for any issues.

During this time my life grew busier. I had another son, Kevin. I went to work full-time. I was divorced from my husband leaving me a single mom of 3. I bought a house. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and during the final months of her life I moved out of my house - temporarily - and into hers to be her main caregiver.

Mom passed away in September of 2005. After moving back into my house, I began to feel tired all the time. I went from being an active, busy person to being a couch potato. I still went to work and I still prepared dinner for myself and my son, but I had to make dinner as soon as I got home from work, cause if I sat down for a minute, I didn't get back up.

The Disease Was Progressing

I thought I was just grieving and that life was just catching up with me. But at my next routine test, the numbers had changed. My disease was progressing.

Almost simultaneously to hearing this news, my symptoms worsened. When I woke up in the morning I felt like I had a small child sitting on my chest and by the end of the day that child had become a very large adult. I couldn't walk as far or as fast as I had in previous years and walking up a flight of stairs made me sick to my stomach.

At this point, my cardiologist, Dr. Joan Crawford advised me to get myself educated about valve replacement surgery. She referred me to a couple of surgeons and recommended that I use the internet to get as much information as I could.

I did the internet thing, but not the surgeon. In my mind, that would have been admitting that I needed the surgery, and I didn't want to accept that. I was just tired. After all, I was getting older, I had put on a few pounds and my most difficult symptoms didn't appear until after I was told that I had a problem. Therefore, I must be creating them in my own head. Is it possible that I was just making them up or that the anxiety was causing them?

Then one day, I asked Dr. Crawford, "If you take my symptoms out of the picture, would you still recommend surgery?" She turned toward me, looked me square in the eye and said, "You can't separate the two, Deb. You're not making it up. You've had several tests and they all support your symptoms. You need to trust your body."

Accepting The Diagnosis

It still took me a little while to accept that I needed open-heart surgery. But as the pressure in my chest got heavier and heavier I realized that I had to do something. After reflecting on my life - my young son needing his mama, wanting to see my grandkids grow up, my brothers and my sister, and a whole passel of nieces and nephews, and God-willing more grandchildren being born - I spent some time in prayer and just knew that I had to trust Dr. Crawford.

A skilled surgeon, Dr. Sanjay Batra successfully performed my surgery nearly one year ago. I feel better than I have in a couple of years - maybe more than that. I no longer carry that adult or even that child on my chest, I can walk further and faster and I can walk up 2 flights of stairs without being sick.

I went back to work, my life has returned to normal. I look forward to a long and happy future. Who knows - maybe I'll even be a great-grandma one day.

So, if I could leave you with just one thing, it would be to trust your bodies. Don't ignore your symptoms. A woman's intuition is one of her best assets and if we ignore it, we may lose our lives.