Only a few years into retirement, Matt Lesniewski still enjoys talking about his work in the steel mill industry. Working his way up in materials handling, he culminated his career by testing products on client sites, confirming the safety of different equipment critical to the production of steel.
“I took my job very seriously,” says Matt. “I was there to protect the lives of people in the mill. It was my job to make sure the proper equipment was in good condition so no one got hurt.”
It was while on the job that Matt had his first heart-related episode in 1996: He started having chest pains and was rushed to the hospital. A blockage had triggered a slight heart attack, and Matt received a stent in his artery.
A history of heart conditions
Matt had long expected that monitoring his heart would be an important part of his health care. His dad had coronary bypass surgery before passing away in his 50s. Fortunately for Matt, his stent was successful, and he didn’t experience any issues for more than 20 years.
But in 2018, he started to experience shortness of breath, and follow-up testing revealed additional clogged arteries. Matt went in for a triple bypass at a hospital near his home in Northwest Indiana. Just eight days after successful open heart surgery, doctors also put in a pacemaker.
Months after having surgery, however, some of Matt’s symptoms persisted. “I felt like I was getting weaker,” remembers Matt. “Even walking to get the mail made me short of breath. And I still had a heart murmur and pressure on my chest.”
Referred to a Rush expert
Matt’s physician insisted that Matt have any procedures done at Rush and referred him to interventional cardiologist Hussam Suradi, MD.
From his first meeting with Suradi, Matt was impressed with his attentiveness and expertise. “From day one, I said ‘I’m yours,’ ” remembers Matt about meeting Suradi. “I felt that at ease and that confident with him and his recommendations.”
Suradi started with a thorough evaluation of Matt’s health. “First and foremost, we must give patients an accurate diagnosis,” he says. “This starts by looking at the patient as a whole. It’s not just about a valve.”
After evaluation, each patient receives a team of providers assigned to their care. This multidisciplinary group meets weekly to discuss the patient, recommend treatment and monitor follow-up care. Although a single physician is a point-of-contact for the patient, they are backed by a team of experts for more comprehensive care.
Led by Suradi, Matt’s team identified aortic stenosis, a valve disease, as the cause of Matt’s continued heart concerns. Aortic stenosis can be life threatening as the aortic valve becomes narrowed over time, reducing blood flow from the heart into the aorta.
Avoiding surgery with a minimally invasive approach
A conventional treatment for aortic stenosis is open heart surgery, but a newer solution offered promise for Matt.
Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) is a minimally invasive procedure that replaces the diseased valve by threading a collapsible replacement valve up to the heart using a catheter. Not a surgery, the procedure requires an interventional cardiologist to insert the catheter through a tiny incision in either the groin or chest. After insertion, the replacement valve takes over the vital job of controlling blood flow away from the heart.
Suradi specializes in minimally invasive heart valve procedures, including TAVR. “When Dr. Suradi recommended this treatment, I was ecstatic,” said Matt. “I was going downhill; even going down the stairs was a chore. And I had already gone through the pain of open heart surgery, only to continue to have problems.”
Rush was among the first in the U.S. to offer TAVR, and the Rush team is now one of the nation’s most experienced with the procedure.
“The data shows that the more TAVRs you perform, the better the outcomes for patients,” Suradi says. “Because Rush has been involved since the clinical trials, we have a very established team that brings together a collective expertise to best care for our patients.”
It was his interest in technology and fascination with the human heart that drew Suradi to the specialty of interventional cardiology — and he continues to be inspired by how technology is moving his field forward.
“New treatments like TAVR allow us to help patients who didn’t have options before,” he says. “We’re able to save more patients and improve their quality of life.”
A supportive care team
While technology and provider expertise played a major role in Matt’s care, Matt was also grateful for the many ways Rush cared for his family.
COVID-19 precautions prevented his wife, Patti, from being by his side for certain aspects of his procedure, but Rush staff helped her find a hotel near the hospital. They also coordinated shuttle transportation between the hospital and hotel.
“It really eased my mind to know that Rush was taking care of Patti, too,” Matt says.
Patti adds, “I couldn’t believe all that Rush did to accommodate me, and I wasn’t even having the procedure. I felt like we received excellent service.”
Suradi explains that caring for family members is an essential part of a patient’s treatment and recovery: “Patients should feel safe, secure and confident in our approach. And that goes for their family members too.”
'It was like they had unclogged a drain'
After Matt’s TAVR procedure, “It’s been like night and day.” Matt says, “I could tell a difference immediately. I had no chest pain, no shortness of breath. My heart murmur was gone. It was like they had unclogged a drain and my blood was pumping again.”
Matt was also impressed with the recovery. After spending only one night in the hospital, he was released and felt great. In fact, Patti had to slow him down, reminding him to take it easy as he healed.
His care before and after the procedure has proved easy, too. Suradi has an office in Dyer to improve access to Rush cardiovascular services in Northwest Indiana, so Matt had the option of booking his follow-up appointments closer to home.
Suradi and his family actually live in Northwest Indiana, and he is committed to providing more advanced, specialty care to the people in his community. “I have a significant patient population in Indiana, and I saw a need to have an office closer to them,” says Suradi. “Part of treating my patients is making it easier for them to receive care.”
That’s something Suradi’s patients appreciate — including Matt, who is now feeling healthy and strong and hopes to stay that way. “I’ve got to be one of the luckiest men in the world. I have my A-team of heart doctors and nurses, but fingers crossed I won’t have to worry about my heart for a while.”