Heart conditions are often silent and can present in various situations. Throughout his life, Jim Hines never had any serious health problems – he’s always lived an active lifestyle as an avid basketball player and world traveler.
Yet one Tuesday afternoon last fall during a job interview, Jim noticed he was not feeling well, and the next three nights he fell severely ill with symptoms reminiscent of COVID-19, such as flu-like symptoms and difficulty breathing.
“When I got out of my bed, my body would just go into shock, and for 30 seconds, I thought I was going to pass out,” Jim explains. “I’d stand and put my hand on the wall so I wouldn’t fall down, and I would just about black out. I also lost bladder control at times. These symptoms continued for the next three nights.”
Path to UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute
After three nights of debilitating symptoms, Jim’s wife took him to the emergency room at their local hospital, where doctors put a pacemaker in and tried to stabilize his condition. He was transferred to the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute at UPMC Hamot, where doctors diagnosed Jim with an ascending aortic aneurysm.
The aorta is the largest artery in the body. The ascending aorta is the portion of the aorta just above the heart, through which blood exits the heart to supply all organs.
An aortic aneurysm is dilation of the aorta, which weakens the aortic wall and can result in tearing or rupture, both of which can be life-threatening conditions.
Like many forms of heart disease, aneurysms often go undiagnosed and/or undetected. Many people do not experience symptoms and discover the condition on accident or once it reaches a dangerous stage.
Experts at UPMC discovered Jim had two other severe heart conditions as well – coronary artery disease (CAD) and mitral valve regurgitation.
People with CAD have severe blockages in one or more of their arteries, which inhibit proper blood flow in the heart muscle.
The mitral valve typically opens and closes like a door, allowing blood to flow forward through the heart and to the rest of the body. Mitral regurgitation is a condition characterized by a “leaking” of the mitral valve, which hinders forward flow of blood. To treat it, doctors often must perform either mitral valve repair or replacement surgery.
Jim was worried and overwhelmed while his care team developed a treatment plan.
“I had three major problems, and I started to get the feeling that this was not looking good,” Jim says. “I was not sure if they were going to be able to fix me.”
UPMC Experts Provide Complex Treatment
Jim was transferred from UPMC Hamot in Erie to UPMC Shadyside in Pittsburgh, where he underwent ascending aortic and hemiarch replacement surgery to treat his ascending aortic aneurysm. For this procedure, heart health experts remove the aneurysmal ascending aorta and replace it with a synthetic graft.
The team at UPMC had a challenge – treating all three of Jim’s major heart conditions at once.
In addition to replacing his aneurysmal ascending aorta, the team performed double coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). The goal of CABG is to restore proper blood flow by inserting another healthy blood vessel from your body into the blocked artery to bypass the blockage. Lastly, to treat his mitral valve regurgitation, doctors replaced his mitral valve with a mechanical one.
The Result: Happy to be Home
Even though it will take time for him to regain all his strength, Jim is feeling much better after his treatment – he left UPMC Shadyside feeling the team gave him the best care he could have expected.
“I feel very fortunate, the team was wonderful to me,” Jim says.
Jim is happy to be home and has been focusing on spending time with his family and gardening, and some day, hopes to reconnect with his basketball buddies.
Jim's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.
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