Charlene Offers Patient Wisdom And Praise For Dr. Gleason

I just received an insightful email from Charlene (in Florida). First of all, her surgery was a success. YEEEAH! CONGRATS TO CHARLENE!!! Second, she raises some critical points for those of you preparing for valve surgery. Here is what she writes:

Dear Adam,

This past July, I found out that I had an aortic aneurysm and would need my aortic valve replacement as well as aorta replacement. As a 45-year old woman with small children, I have to admit this scared the hell out of me. Your book helped so much with all the information and uplifting stories. I would like to pass on some of the wisdom of what I found to you and the others reading your blog.

1. I recommend that everyone get actual copies of all their testing.
You may not understand the test results but when you go for a second opinion it helps so much at least you can point out the parts you do not understand and ask the questions. My cardiologist in Florida obviously did not read my initial echocardiogram. It showed the aneurysm back in 2006 and he never said a word about it. It was not until 2008 that he sent me for a CT scan to see what was going on.


Getting Second Opinions – Patient Survey (2007)

2. Always get a Second Opinion. My doctor in Florida told me that I needed the valve, valve root and aorta thru the arch replaced. (He seemed like a competent surgeon, very nice, spent lots of time with us.) My husband and I were in shock. We started researching doctors and hospitals for the second opinion.

That research led us to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Dr. Thomas Gleason. This man is as close to a miracle worker as you get. Rather than being on Coumadin therapy or facing the possibility of surgery a few years down the road, Dr. Gleason said he could fix my valve and only replace the aorta. (We did have to let him know which valve we wanted in-case he could not save the valve once he got in there.)

Thomas Gleason - Heart Surgeon
Dr. Thomas Gleason – Heart Surgeon

I am happy to say that on September 10, 2008, I had surgery. Dr. Gleason was able to save my existing valve and just replace the aorta. My surgeon was excellent and I wanted you to know that. Dr. Thomas Gleason with UPMC. He not only did the surgery but also was with me the entire time afterwords when I was unstable. Doctor Gleason did not leave my bedside even in the ICU until his medical team was able to get my heart rate down and stabilize me. Doctor Gleason was there a full 12 hours. My husband and I knew when we met him that he was extraordinary… And, we were right.

I am recuperating nicely and with the help of your heart valve surgery book and everyone’s ideas. I hope to be back in Florida in no time. Thank you again.

Sincerely,

Charlene Melcher

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.

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  • nancy mallinger

    Charlene–
    That’s wo interesting about Dr. Gleason. I live in Pittsburgh, need a valve replacement, and his name was never mentioned to me. I am going to meet a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic next week. Maybe who I need is right in my own backyard!

  • Gail

    I have not heard of Dr. Gleason but we went to Cleveland Clinic and my husband had his aortic valve replaced and his mitral valve repaired on September 12, 2008. I highly recommend the Cleveland Clinic. They were wonderful with patient and family education. We went there for a second opinion as my husband’s local doctor in NY suggested surgery 3 years ago.

  • mercy turan

    To Charlene, from Florida: How great, and uplifting to hear another succesful surgery has taken place. Your comments are right on line with Adams suggestions of always getting a second opinion, and also keeping actual records when you have your tests done. As you say, you may not understand the wording in the papers, but it is so much easier to hand them out (for copies to be made only, keep your records!) than to have to get other doctors find, fax and receive the stuff.

    It is also notable that you had some rough times, and this is good for others to hear. (read). It is a delicate surgery and people should not expect it to be a simple “walk in the park”, (although, indeed, it can be for a small percentage of people), but at the same time they need to know that it is not uncommon at all to have complications and it is even expected, however, it is also very survivable. The ideal is to be with a surgeon and a team (surgical and recovery–ICU team) who does this all the time and is comfortable getting the patient back on track.

    Very important, too, in selecting a surgeon, is that “I don’t know what” feeling we get when we meet a person, that intuitive thing that is a God given gift. Always “listen” to it and heed! Not just in choosing doctors but for everything in life. That is why we are humans with that special gift, we just have to cultivate it.

    It is wonderful and healthy that people like you and Adam and all the others write in his site and contibute so much by sharing with others who are full of fear when they realize they have to go thru this kind of experience.

    God bless you all. Mercy (mother of John Turan, Ross Procedure Mar /2008, by Dr. Bleiweis, at University of Florida Shands Hospital, Gainesville, Florida.

  • Simon

    Charlene,

    I’m with you, Mercy and Adam… Alllllllll the way!

    That chart is somewhat scary. 35% of patient not getting a second opinion.

    Ah-yah-yah.

    That could be a very, very, very big mistake. I know of some other patients that got triple opinions before they had heart surgery. Personally, I stopped at two opinions because there was immediate consensus regarding my severe aortic stenosis.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    Simon

  • nancy mallinger

    Gail–I would appreciate knowing which surgeon you used at the Cleveland Clinic. I have an appt next week to see Dr Pettersson. I have had a hard time getting this appt and getting everything scheduled. Did you? Have you heard of him? I hope your husband is doing well,

  • Gail

    Nancy,

    We used Dr. Bruce Lytle. I have heard of Pettersson and met another patient who saw him and did well. My husband is doing well except for a cough which makes his chest uncomfortable. Cleveland Clinic just opened a new heart hospital and is moving everyone over to the new building. that may be why it is hard to get things done right now. It officially starts in the new building this week.

  • Joan Keilman

    Hooray for Charlene, sounds like she did her homework. Adam is you have a tel# for her I will call her since she lives in FL. She can call me at 813/920-8812. My cardiologist was going to refer me to a Dr. at Tampa General Hosp and as a nurse I stopped by his office only to find out he was not accepting new patients even if it were a referral so I immediately checked Cleveland Clinic as they are #1 in the country. I would like to know more of her story. Yes, I think your book should be required reading for all heart patients!!!
    Joan Keilman

  • Lorie

    Charlene,

    so happy to hear of your success story! Like you, I am also in my 40’s with young children and was scared to death to hear that I needed surgery for my aortic aneurysm. I consulted with two of the top cardiothoracic surgeons in the Seattle area and was not happy with what they were telling me. Something inside of me said to keep looking . I was scheduled to fly to cleveland Clinic for a consult with Dr. Svennson and on a recommendation from someone i met on the internet i sent my records to Dr. Raissi at Cedars Sinai. To make a long story short, I was so impressed with Dr. Raissi, he personally called me within days of receiving my information. On January 15 of this year I had a total resection of my ascending aorta replaced with a dacron graft under total circulatory arrest and I also was able to have a valve Repair! It was well worth the travel to California to have the peace of mind and faith that my life was in the hand of such a skilled surgeon and wonderful human being. I was thrilled with my outcome and I am glad to hear that there are other skills surgeons who are able to do a repair….it’s such a wonderful thing to be able to keep your native valve and have a good outcome. I am 9 months post op and by all post-op tests my valve is functioning beautifully! Originally I was told that I would probably get 10 years out of my valve repair but the 64 slice CT at 6 weeks indicated that my valve was functioning so well that i would probably get 20 years out of the repair. I was glad to not have to deal with the Coumadin issue and although a reoperation is likely for me at some point, who knows maybe valve replacements will done percutaneously by the time I need it!
    anyway, congratulations on a successful outcome!

  • Sandee

    Charlene – I too am a former patient of Dr. Gleason and have the same feelings. He performed mitral valve surgery on me (at age 45 also) at Northwestern Memorial Hospital right before he moved to Pittsburgh. I do believe he is an incredible doctor and person! Heart surgury is a scary thing. But I had such comfort and trust in Dr Gleason that I truly felt everything would be ok.

  • Ed

    I had my arotic valve replaced with a pig’s valve by Dr. Gleason at UPMC this past May (2008). Not only is he a great surgeon, but his entire staff is also great. Any time I called during my recuperation at home they were extremly responsive, attentive, and helpful. My surgery went as well as anyone could hope – I was in the hospital for 5 days then went home and then 5 weeks to the day after surgery I was back at work full time. I have no restrictions in terms of diet or activity. The whole thing is a distant memory at this point.

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