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Lifesaving Heart Surgery That Was Meant to Be

Patients travel from all over the globe for heart surgery at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center. But Duane Roesch's visit from Branson, Missouri illustrates how small and personal the world can be.

The 76-year-old retired farmer knew he had high blood pressure and was being treated by his hometown doctor. He also learned from a neighbor that one of the best cardiac surgeons in the country had just left nearby St. Louis to practice in Houston at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

But he did not know his own daughter, Chelsey Haeffner, a market development representative at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center, actually works with that renowned cardiac surgeon, Dr. Marc Moon, who is chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine. 

While visiting Chelsey in Houston during Thanksgiving, Duane started feeling poorly with extreme fatigue and shortness of breath.  Chelsey had joined  Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center just months before.  "Because of my onboarding and education to support the cardiovascular service line at BSLMC, I recognized that he could very well be in heart failure." Chelsey recalled.

She called Baylor St. Luke's cardiologist Dr. Leo Simpson, who admitted Duane into the hospital for a full workup.  

First, the team found that Duane's heart was arrhythmic. "My heart was beating anywhere from 30 to 113 beats per minute," Duane recalled. Then, they found that Duane had a life-threatening aortic aneurysm measuring 5.4 centimeters and advised Duane to return in one month so Drs. Moon and his colleague, Cardiothoracic Surgeon Lauren Barron, MD, could repair the aneurysm, which had reduced his heart function to only 25 percent.

"When the Lord aligns the stars for you and puts you in touch with two of the world's best heart surgeons, you better pay attention," Duane said.

An aortic aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in the aorta, the large artery that carries blood from the heart through the chest and torso. It can weaken the artery and leak blood or rupture, both with devastating effects.

Drs. Barron and Moon performed open heart surgery, using a heart-lung machine to provide blood and oxygen to Duane allowing the team to access and repair Duane’s leaking aortic valve.  “We replaced a section just off his heart and repaired the valve which was dilated and at risk of rupturing,” Dr. Barron explained.   “The aorta had stretched to the point that the heart was not pumping as it should. In fact,  blood was flowing backward instead of pumping forward.”

The complex surgery was a success.  Duane spent 14 days in the hospital and recuperated at his daughter's home before heading back to Branson.

Three months post-surgery, Duane is regaining strength from the open-heart surgery, is going to the gym and taking care to heed the temporary lift restrictions.            

"My breathing is fine now and my oxygen levels are at 95%. I can't say enough about the entire staff at Baylor St Luke's. It is the best place in the United States to go. I feel very blessed." he said.

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