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Healthy You

Passport to a Healthier Heart: NorthShore Serves as International Lifesaver in a Cardiac Crisis

Thursday, February 27, 2020 11:37 AM

Luziana Lanna found her retirement to be nearly as busy as her long career as an English teacher in her native Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Her days continued to be full and active, particularly in spending treasured time with her four sons and their families—especially the grandchildren.  

But last spring, at age 62, Lanna faced a dangerous heart condition that threatened the very life she loved. Her hope would come only after a 5,000-mile journey to Chicagoland and the life-saving care she would receive from a NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute surgeon.


Lethal Blockage
Lanna suffered from a degenerative heart condition known as mitral annular calcification—a deposit of calcium creating a severe blockage in her mitral valve, which began leaking and causing congestion from blood backing up in the lungs.

“Think of it like a rusty hinge on a doorframe,” explained Hyde Russell, MD, NorthShore’s Owen L. Coon Chair of Cardiothoracic Surgery. “The hinge becomes so thick and rigid that the door can no longer close.”

“I was so worried,” Lanna recalled. “I love my grandchildren, and the thought of dying and not seeing them was just awful for me.

The rare condition requires extremely complex open-heart surgery to repair the valve. The extensive calcification makes surgical treatment both complex and risky, causing many surgeons to shy away from taking on such cases.

When Lanna and her Brazilian cardiologist Archimedes Santos, MD, could find no one in Brazil trained to perform the critical procedure, Dr. Santos began intensive online research. He found an article about the condition and its successful treatment by Dr. Russell in the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.

Cardiac Lifeline
“Dr. Santos sent me an email, called and sent a packet with Luziana’s medical information including an echocardiogram and a CT scan,” recalled Dr. Russell, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. “After reviewing all the records and realizing the severity of her condition, it was clear our team could help.”

Of the handful of heart surgeons in the United States who now perform this procedure, many have come to Cardiovascular Institute for training. Fully confident in the NorthShore team, Lanna, one of her sons, and Dr. Santos flew to Chicago where she underwent the five-hour intricate surgery at NorthShore.

The surgery went precisely as planned and her recovery moved quickly. Just 10 days postsurgery Lanna was able to fly home to Brazil. Her follow-up treatment includes regular checkups and echocardiograms, with an ultrasound every two years.

Back with her loving family in Brazil and some 5,000 miles away, Lanna’s gratitude continues to shine through as if she were still local. “I feel so blessed!” she exclaimed. “Not only for the success of my surgery, but for the chance to tell the world how the expertise of Dr. Russell and NorthShore helps people live longer and better.”