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 interventional cardiologist Abed Dehnee, M.D., diagnosed him with congestive heart failure and identified a blood clot in his lung.

“His heart was weakened, working at 35%,” Dr. Dehnee said. “I reviewed his echocardiogram personally, and found 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. Michael’s symptoms continued and he was repeatedly admitted back into the hospital.

During an admission in November 2017, Dr. Dehnee told Michael he was “tuned up enough” to undergo surgery.

“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 specialists they sent in!”

One of those specialists was renowned cardiothoracic surgeon Daniel G. Ciaburri, M.D. He collaborated with Dr. Dehnee on Michael’s case in preparation for the critical two- to three-hour open-heart surgery. Dr. Ciaburri said Michael’s condition was especially delicate.

“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 more risky 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 also followed up with Dr. Dehnee, who cautioned him to take it easy, even though Michael was eager to get right back to working, step-dancing and traveling.

Though he remains sore from the surgery, Michael says he’s doing much better. He said 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.”

While Michael’s condition isn’t uncommon, Dr. Dehnee said Ingalls is fortunate to have a surgeon with the expertise of Dr. Ciaburri, who recently joined the Ingalls Medical Staff to lead the open-heart, thoracic and vascular surgery program at the hospital.

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