Life-saving Heart Surgery Leads to Gift of Gratitude

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It was a warm August day when Joe Velevitch headed into Costco to stock up on items for an upcoming Vermont camping trip. About halfway down the first aisle, he had to stop. He tried to take a deep breath but was unable to.

“I just suddenly realized I couldn’t catch my breath – I couldn’t breathe,” said Joe.

Joe left the store and headed home to rest. The next day was Monday and he called his primary care physician who suggested Joe see a gastroenterologist as he had also been dealing with some stomach issues and the doctor thought the two ailments may be caused by a hernia. Joe had no other symptoms, but the inability to breathe deeply had him worried.

The next day, Joe’s breathing continued to worsen. He called his doctor again and was directed to the emergency department. Joe left to head to Baystate Noble Hospital right away.

Uncovering the Heart of the Matter

Joe was quickly seen and after some testing, the Baystate Noble team realized he had a bad case of double pneumonia, which impacts both lungs. He was put on antibiotics and a LASIX® infusion treatment to reduce fluid in his body. Nurse Practitioner Elizabeth Lachapelle was taking care of Joe when she noticed something was amiss.

“I remember she kept coming in and commenting on my ankles being swollen,” said Joe. “Soon, she just said ‘I don’t like this – there must be something else going on’.”

As a result, Joe was taken for an echocardiogram and the team found that he had a bacterial infection on his heart. He was transferred to Baystate Medical Center to receive care at the Davis Family Heart & Vascular Center. From there, it was determined that Joe was going to need cardiac surgery.

Coming Together for Care

Joe’s multiple diagnoses led him to see many Baystate Health clinicians as they navigated his treatment through a team-based approach.

“There were so many people involved in my care,” shared Joe. “I saw everybody from renal doctors to infectious disease doctors to a cardiac surgeon!”

“It was indeed a complex surgery as he had strep endocarditis, a badly infected aortic valve with severe regurgitation and also an abscess in the heart that I had to repair,” said Cardiac Surgeon Dr. Kelly M. Wanamaker. “The aortic valve has three leaflets and two of Joe’s were destroyed, as well as the tissue just below it.”

Many team members made a difference in Joe’s care and were recognized through a Gift of Gratitude to Baystate Health Foundation, including Nurse Catherine Towsley, Nurse Eric Farnham, Elizabeth Lachapelle, and Dr. Wanamaker.

“It was the best experience I could have possibly hoped for,” said Joe. “The team thought of everything – they made me feel so comfortable, they explained everything. I understood every part of the process and what was going to happen.”Dr. Kelly Wanamaker

That was especially important as Dr. Wanamaker performed his surgery, which would include temporarily stopping Joe’s heart. She shared with Joe that the valve was so badly infected that it was destroyed, leaving it incapable of functioning properly. The valve leaking so intensely led to heart failure.

“Dr. Wanamaker was really incredible and asked me questions about how active I was and took that in to account when planning the surgery so I could continue that lifestyle,” shared Joe.

Today, Joe is thriving. He shares that before he had gone to the hospital, he was living with high blood pressure and two heart murmurs. Following cardiac rehab, he’s happy to report he has low blood pressure without medication, no heart murmurs, and a resting heart rate of 50.

He has returned to his active lifestyle and has even lost 30 pounds.

“I’m better than I’ve ever been – I feel great,” shared Joe. “All the way around, it was a great experience. I was thrilled with the treatment I received and happy to be back at 100%.”

Learn More About Gifts of Gratitude

If you’ve had an outstanding care experience like Joe, consider a donation through a Gift of Gratitude.

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