St. Peter’s Hospital Hosts Second Annual Heart Recovery Reunion

On Friday, June 14, St. Peter’s Hospital, an affiliate of St. Peter’s Health Partners, held its second annual Heart Recovery Reunion. The emotional event reunited three cardiac surgery patients and their families with the team of health care professionals who saved their lives.

“Our cardiovascular teams – including our surgeons, physician assistants, nurses, patient care technicians, and pharmacy colleagues – save lives every day in our hospital. But, rarely do they get the chance to see the patients they help save after they’ve recovered,” said Nicholas Montalto, M.D., chief medical officer for St. Peter’s Health Partners Acute Care. “Being able to bring everyone together and see these patients reunited with their families reinforces why we do what we do.”

“These patients have overcome challenging cardiovascular conditions and regained their quality of life,” remarked J.D. Filippone, chief of cardiology at St. Peter’s Hospital and a cardiologist with Albany Associates in Cardiology (AAC), a practice of St. Peter’s Health Partners Medical Associates. “Their success stories inspire us to continue to strive for excellence and to raise the bar for cardiac medicine in the Capital Region.”

Herb, a local soccer coach who underwent open-heart surgery in 2023, was joined by his wife, Traci, at the event. Both expressed their gratitude to the critical care and cardiac teams who cared for Herb during a harrowing ordeal that included 18 days spent on life support. Herb tearfully recalled how the team members, including cardiothoracic surgeon Soon Park, M.D., of Albany Cardiothoracic Surgeons, not only kept him alive, but supported his family during the three weeks he spent in the hospital.

“When I was going through everything, when I was completely unable to speak, walk, talk, do any of that, I had nothing to worry about because of the nurses, doctors, and technicians at St. Peter’s Hospital,” Herb said. “You saved my life. You saved my wife’s life. You took care of my son. You didn’t have to. You could have just treated me. The other stuff was not your responsibility. But you took on me and everything that I brought as your responsibility. How do I say thank you? I can’t. Thank you doesn’t cover it. Doesn’t even come close.”

Herb was told as a college student that he would likely have heart problems later in life. That was thanks to radiation he underwent at the time to treat Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Although he and his wife, Traci, were prepared for the possibility, they never envisioned Herb would end up on life support following open-heart surgery.

As Traci described, “It went from us taking a light little hike on a mountain to falling over, you know, a precipice.”

Herb’s journey to open-heart surgery began in the summer of 2023. He developed swelling in his legs along with fatigue and shortness of breath. By late summer, that shortness of breath became debilitating. He ended up at St. Peter’s Hospital where doctors informed him that a blood infection was causing congestive heart failure. Thanks to the previous rounds of radiation in his earlier years, Herb’s heart valves had become weakened and, as doctors explained, they became an easy target for the infection.

A team led by Dr. Park performed open-heart surgery on October 4. They replaced two valves in Herb’s heart, repaired an area of the heart damaged by bacteria, and performed two bypasses. That same night, an unexpected problem arose: Herb’s lungs began failing. Doctors had to open Herb’s chest back up, and leave it open, while they put him on ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation). ECMO is a machine that temporarily takes over a patient’s heart and lung function to give the patient’s organs time to heal. Herb was on life support for 18 days and ECMO for 10 days.

After a short stay at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital, Herb returned home in early November. He was back on the field coaching soccer by January.

Laird Scranton, a local author and musician, was one of the other two patients recognized during the Heart Recovery Reunion. In 2023, Laird had a quick onset of congestive heart failure. During a valve replacement procedure, a structural anomaly was discovered in his heart. What was a routine surgery suddenly became an emergency. During efforts to repair the anomaly, Laird’s heart stopped. He was resuscitated, but his organs began to fail. He was put on life support and later, ECMO.

After several days, Laird began improving and was removed from life support. Within two weeks, he was released from St. Peter’s Hospital and began his recovery. He is now back to writing and recently published his 14th book.

Laird’s college sweetheart and wife of 50 years, Risa, was at the event, along with their two adult children. All four expressed their gratitude to the care team, in particular to Colin Hirst, M.D., FACC, FSCAI, interventional and structural heart specialist at Albany Associates in Cardiology, for saving Laird’s life and for guiding them through his unexpected hospital stay.

“There was a very terrific team of some thirty professionals from nurses to doctors to technicians, who all worked seamlessly together,” said Laird. “We are all just so grateful for their skill, care, and compassion, all of which helped us navigate through a difficult time.”

Maryann Milton was just three years old when she underwent open-heart surgery for congenital heart defects. At the time, open-heart surgery was extremely rare, and few children survived. Maryann was one of the lucky ones. Throughout life, she would experience some mild shortness of breath, but in late 2023, what was mild trouble became severe.

Doctors determined Maryann’s difficulty breathing was due to an enlarged heart, the result of a ventricular septal defect (VSD) – the same issue that led to her childhood surgery. The standard treatment – open-heart surgery – was something Maryann desperately wanted to avoid.

Her cardiologist, Dr. Hirst, met with the multidisciplinary heart team at St. Peter’s Hospital and determined Maryann was a candidate for a novel transcatheter approach that could spare her from reliving her childhood surgical experience.

The St. Peter’s team collaborated with Thomas Forbes, M.D., a world-renowned pediatric interventional cardiologist and expert in VSD repair at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Florida, as well as industry partners from Abbott Cardiovascular, to evaluate, plan, and execute the non-invasive procedure to successfully close the hole in Maryann’s heart. Her procedure was the first-ever transcatheter closure of a VSD performed at St. Peter’s Hospital.

Maryann was back in the gym within five days, and back to work as a dental assistant at the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany.

“I was so comfortable throughout the whole experience and that’s thanks to the staff at St. Peter’s,” remarked Maryann. “Because of their care and reassurance, I was very confident and had no doubts that I was in good hands. To know that I was able to avoid having another open-heart surgery and am now back doing the things I love, means so much. I am forever grateful.”

“These patients would not be alive today if it were not for the outstanding efforts of our entire multidisciplinary team here at St. Peter’s,” remarked Dr. Hirst. “We are fortunate to have a state-of-the-art facility and access to cutting-edge technology which, combined with the expertise of our skilled surgeons, physicians, and nurses, allow us to treat rare and complex cardiac conditions like Herb’s, Laird’s, and Maryann’s.”

“This event today is a testament to the unwavering commitment and genuine compassion to be found throughout St. Peter’s,” Hirst continued. “I hope this reunion of grateful hearts serves as an inspiration to everyone who walks our halls – colleagues, patients, and visitors alike – and is a reminder of the world-class, compassionate, life-saving care that is available right here in the Capital Region.”

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