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Charlene Melcher: Aortic Aneurysm

A woman with blue eyes and curly blonde hair is smiling.

The Challenge: An Aortic Aneurysm

Charlene Melcher, an active mom and real estate agent in Orlando, Fl., kept a busy schedule when her heart started racing in 2006. She began taking beta blockers and went on working and managing the daily activities of a busy family, not thinking that she might have a serious heart problem.

After two years, Charlene’s heart was still racing and she worried that she had something more serious than hormone-related heart palpitations. Just 46 years old at the time, Charlene learned that she had an aortic aneurysm, a dangerous bulge in her aorta.

Charlene’s doctor told her she needed to have both her aorta and aortic valve replaced. He also recommended a mechanical valve, which would mean a lifetime on blood thinners.

The Path to UPMC's Center for Thoracic Aortic Disease

Charlene and her husband wanted a second opinion. They began looking nationwide for an expert in aortic aneurysm treatment. Charlene’s brother in Buffalo and a friend in Philadelphia joined in the search.

Everyone came up with the same result: Thomas Gleason, MD, director of the Center for Thoracic Aortic Disease at UPMC's Heart and Vascular Institute.

As a native of Pennsylvania whose parents still live in Freeport, Charlene was very familiar with UPMC. She and her husband traveled to Pittsburgh to meet Dr. Gleason and felt comfortable with him right away.

“The minute my husband and I went into Dr. Gleason’s office and met with him and just spoke with him, I knew he was the one that was going to do the surgery,” Charlene says.

Dr. Gleason felt confident that he could replace Charlene’s aorta and repair her aortic valve, saving her from a lifetime on blood thinners and the possibility of another surgery in the future.

The Solution: Aortic Replacement and Aortic Valve Repair

Charlene underwent surgery with Dr. Gleason and his team on September 10, 2008, at UPMC Shadyside. She spent five days in the hospital and says the staff provided great comfort to her and her family throughout her stay.

“I can’t say enough about the care I got,” Charlene says. “I tell everybody about it.”

After a three-week recovery at her parents’ home, Charlene returned to Florida and took part in a cardiac rehabilitation program to help ease her mind as she got back to her daily activities. Today, she is healthy and enjoying an active life.

“We are very busy,” she says. “I don’t sit a lot.”

In addition to spending as much time as they can at the beach, Charlene and her husband enjoy watching their youngest daughter play lacrosse and traveling to Tennessee, where their older children attend college and graduate school.

Charlene's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.

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