Tenacious team mends man's troubled heart

Working in construction, Michael Sachell is used to lifting heavy loads and climbing flights of stairs. So, in early 2017, when the 55-year-old found he could barely walk up a few steps without getting short-of-breath, he was worried.

“It just got worse and worse as time went on,” said the Lansing resident. Michael finally went to UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial and soon cardiologist Abed Dehnee, MD, diagnosed him with congestive heart failure and identified a blood clot in his lung.

“His heart was weakened, working at 35%,” Dr. Dehnee said. “He had severe leakage of the mitral valve. We couldn’t send him to surgical repair at that time because of his congestive heart failure and blood clot in his lung.”

Dr. Dehnee instructed Michael to begin a regimen of the blood-thinning medication coumadin, along with a heart failure medication regimen to help his heart cope with the mitral valve leakage. However, his mitral valve continued to weaken, leaking blood that moved into his lungs.

“I was in and out of Ingalls every few months, and I got tired of that,” he says. “So I said, ‘OK, sign me up.’ They were ready for me. You should have seen all the nurses and people they sent in!”

One of those people was renowned cardiothoracic surgeon Daniel G. Ciaburri, MD. “In a community hospital setting, it is unique to have a surgeon who is skilled in mitral valve repair,” Dr. Dehnee said. “It’s a very delicate valve and the successful repair depends on surgical expertise.”

This immediate access to advanced specialists and techniques is the result of the Ingalls partnership with UChicago Medicine, a highly respected academic medical force on the forefront of healthcare.

“Multiple health issues combined with a weak heart muscle increased the stakes for this complex surgery,” Dr. Ciaburri said. “He had class four heart failure, which is the highest. That made the surgery riskier for him.”

Dr. Ciaburri successfully repaired Michael’s heart valve during the delicate procedure. Michael was up and walking around two days after surgery and back home within the week. While he recovered, Michael said Dr. Ciaburri checked in with him over the phone several times.

Michael says he feels blessed by the care he received, adding, “If I hit the lottery, I’m going to donate a couple million to Ingalls. They saved my life.”