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Patient returns home four days after lifesaving LVAD surgery

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Just two months post-operation, Staszczyk (pictured with his girlfriend), graduated from Niagara University.

It’s finally summer in Buffalo. The days are longer, the temperature is rising, and it’s time for another season of summer softball for Alex Staszczyk. It’s a simple pleasure for any 23-year old and his friends, especially for Staszczyk, who just three months ago was fighting an infection that nearly stopped his heart.  

In February 2019, after experiencing a sudden shortness of breath and pressure on his side, Staszczyk visited his doctor. He was relieved to learn his pain was from an inflamed gallbladder, something that could be taken care of with a relatively routine surgery. But even with his gallbladder removed, his breathing issues and pain persisted. After a follow up visit identified additional fluid in his abdomen and chest, abnormal for someone his age, Staszczyk was transferred to Strong Memorial Hospital where he would receive more specialized cardiac care.

Shortly after arriving at Strong, his condition worsened. Staszczyk began slurring his speech, falling in and out of consciousness, and had a hard time remembering what was going on. “When I woke up the next morning, the doctors explained that my heart had almost completely stopped pumping blood throughout my body,” he says. “I was fighting an infection and my left ventricle was so swollen, almost two centimeters larger than usual, which explained why I was having such a hard time breathing.” With the swelling too severe to fix with medication alone, Dr. Bryan Barrus and his team recommended Staszczyk undergo surgery to receive a LVAD (left ventricular assist device), an implantable mechanical pump that helps pump blood from the lower chambers of the heart to the rest of the body.

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Staszczyk (pictured with members of his family) at his May 2019 graduation.

Waking up in the ICU following his surgery, the results were better than anyone could have expected. Just four days after his surgery, nearly one-third of the anticipated recovery time, Staszczyk was cleared to return home. His recovery, due in part to his age and general good health, was the result of a new surgical approach taken by Barrus and his team at Strong. In lieu of completing a full sternotomy, where the sternum must be broken, the LVAD was implanted by performing two thoracotomies, where the incision is instead made between the ribs. In fact, this approach has become the new standard at Strong, which just celebrated its 100th implant and ranks fifth in the country for the number of LVADs implanted annually. “Under the old model, we noticed prolonged right ventricle failure with a sternotomy, so we altered the approach to protect the right ventricle, decreasing blood loss and shortening recovery time for patients,” Barrus says.

This enhanced recovery time was a thoughtful and intentional effort between the hospital’s physicians, nurses, social workers, nutritionists, and LVAD coordinators, who work together to better prepare patients for surgery and optimizes recovery time, according to Barrus. For Staszczyk, leaving the hospital and quickly gaining clearance to drive and return to work drastically improved his mindset during recovery. “The LVAD was something I hadn’t planned for and I was nervous about how it was going to alter my life and change what I was capable of,” he says. “Getting home, seeing my progress, and getting back to normal made all the difference.”

For Staszczyk, normal means getting back to softball, which wouldn’t have been possible without Barrus and the lifesaving care he received at Strong. “I’ve been in three different hospitals, all this year.  When I went to Strong, I was in awe of everyone I met and the care they provided,” he says. “I don’t think I would have had the recovery I had anywhere but Strong.”

—Meghan Goff, July 2019


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