Heartfelt Healing Brings Dreams to Life
Minimally invasive procedures for congenital heart defects
Matthew Bierlein lives in the Michigan woods, 300 miles from Chicago. He’s a 25-year-old who loves bow hunting and dreams of going back to college and working overseas.
He is also a young man who was born with a heart defect. That defect kept him out of the military after high school — dashing one long-held dream.
This spring, Bierlein was reminded that the defect, a hole in his heart, could keep him from achieving other goals when he developed endocarditis, a serious heart infection that landed him in the hospital. It was so serious that he needed intravenous antibiotics for six weeks.
The hole had to be fixed, Bierlein decided. “It served as a place for the infection to set in, ” he says. “My risk of getting endocarditis again was higher. Next time, my recovery would be harder. ” In fact, next time the infection could be deadly.
Bierlein’s defect, a hole between the two lower pumping chambers of the heart, is known as a muscular ventricular septal defect,. To correct the problem, his doctor in Michigan recommended Ziyad M. Hijazi, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Rush University Medical Center and an internationally recognized pioneer in nonsurgical heart defect repair.
People like Bierlein who have holes in their hearts are predisposed to long-term health complications, such as endocarditis, Hijazi says, which makes closing the holes the best option for some people.
Open-heart surgery was an option. But it involves cutting the breast bone in half, spreading it apart, putting the patient on a bypass machine and stopping the heart — a process not without risk.
“Also, the location of the heart defect would have made it very difficult to reach without cutting through the muscle of the heart. Obviously, that’s a big deal, ” Hijazi says.
Bierlein says, “I didn’t want to go through open-heart surgery. There’s a long recovery, it’s painful and there’s a greater chance of infection. ”
Fortunately, Bierlein had a better option. The procedure offered by Hijazi and his team, including Clifford Kavinsky, MD, PhD, and Ra-id Abdulla, MD, could be performed on a beating heart and required only two puncture points so small they didn’t need stitches. Additionally, it took just one and a half hours, instead of the four to five needed for open-heart surgery.
Hijazi implanted a device he’s been testing for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 1998 and that received formal FDA approval just weeks before Bierlein’s surgery. It consists of two small mesh discs that collapse into a catheter. The catheter is inserted into the chest through one of the puncture sites and threaded through the blood vessels into the heart. Once in the heart, the discs expand to seal the hole.
“His own tissue will grow over the device, covering it completely, ” says Hijazi, who has more experience using the device than any other doctor in the United States.
While open-heart surgery would have required Bierlein to spend about a week in the hospital and six weeks recovering at home, he was able to go home the next day. Instead of a “zipper” scar down his chest — something he wanted to avoid — Bierlein needed just two small bandages to protect the puncture sites.
A Healthier Future
The device in Bierlein’s heart is permanent and significantly reduces his risk of future infections.
“He can compete in the Olympics if he wants, ” Hijazi says.
After his surgery, Bierlein was content to prepare for turkey-hunting season and to let his dreams — which once seemed impossible — take flight.
“For the first time, ” he says. “I’m not sick.”
The reputation of Ziyad M. Hijazi, MD, draws patients — and lecture invitations — from around the world. His youngest patient was a fetus still in the womb and his oldest was a 96-year-old who needed an aortic aneurysm repaired.
Hijazi also performed the first pulmonary valve replacement surgery in the United States using a transcatheter Edwards pulmonary valve instead of open-heart surgery.
Congenital and Structural Heart Disease
At Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, researchers and nurse specialists work in teams to address the full scope of heart problems, whether common or complex.
Working in state-of-the art facilities, using some of the world’s most sophisticated technology, these experts are on the leading edge of diagnosis, treatment and discovery. From preventive measures to heart transplantation, they are helping to revolutionize heart care.
For more information about the care for congenital and structural heart disease at Rush visit the Center for Congenital and Structural Heart Disease home page.
For more information about cardiovascular services at Rush visit our Heart & Vascular Programs home page.
For more information about the pediatric cardiovascular care at Rush visit the Pediatric Cardiovascular Services home page.
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