The surgical team at Good Samaritan Hospital helped Denise Hurban find strength from within.
By Melissa F. Pheterson
As seen in the January/February 2020 Issue of Advancing Care
As her left arm slid off the steering wheel, Denise Hurban had one panicked thought: I don’t want to die in the car. Hurban, 50, was acutely aware of her personal and family history of heart problems. At 33, with a newborn baby, she’d learned that one of her coronary arteries had narrowed so dangerously that she needed a stent to widen it. Her younger brother had needed a similar procedure. Seared into Hurban’s memory was her father dying of a heart attack, at the wheel, at age 41.
Throughout the spring of 2019, Hurban had suffered chest pains, which she mistook for indigestion. But as a special-education teacher’s aide, she was focused on helping her students finish the school year. On June 3, her upset stomach returned as she scrubbed her bathroom floor. Reluctant to stay home and lose the day, she took antacids and began her commute from Tappan to Pearl River.
But a few minutes later, she lost her grip on the wheel. She called her daughter Bryanna, a nurse who had just finished her night shift.
“She said, ‘I think you’re having a heart attack,’” Hurban recalls.
Bryanna brought Hurban to Good Samaritan Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth), in Suffern. Soon after she entered the building, the numbness returned. She was seen immediately by a cardiologist, who promptly performed a cardiac catheterization and called in the surgical team.
“Denise had premature coronary artery disease and aggressive atherosclerosis — the buildup of plaque in her arteries, which is a condition that runs in her family,” says Cary Passik, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Good Samaritan Hospital. Her stent had kept the disease at bay for 17 years, but the numbness and upset stomach signaled a mild heart attack.
The catheterization showed that Hurban’s left main coronary artery had narrowed. This time, however, she would require bypass surgery in which segments of blood vessels are grafted below the blockages, thus creating a new route for blood flow.
A New Take on Traditional Bypass
“While there is currently no cure for atherosclerosis, our goal is to offer surgery that will offer good health, lasting as long as possible, especially for younger patients, like Denise,” Dr. Passik explains. Traditional bypass surgeries use a combination of arteries and veins, but Dr. Passik chose to use two specific types of arteries instead: the mammary arteries (which are “almost immune to atherosclerosis”) and a radial artery, from her forearm, which also has a better chance of remaining open over the long run.
Creating a bypass with arteries instead of veins requires a longer surgery, a more meticulous technique, and because the sternum must be divided during surgery, it can take longer to heal. However, Dr. Passik, along with his partner, cardiothoracic surgeon Chirag Badami, MD, felt that Hurban was a good candidate. “This surgery is not ideal for obese or diabetic patients, or patients of advanced age,” he says.
“I have also found that bypass surgery tends to be a life-changing experience that helps patients realize they may need to change their diets, quit smoking and become more active,” he continues. “With the patient taking better care of themselves and the longevity of all arterial grafts, this procedure is as close to a cure for coronary artery disease as we have.”
With her care team working quickly, Hurban had the bypass surgery on June 5. “Dr. Passik and the nurses explained everything to my daughter and spoke to her immediately after surgery. They were thorough; they put us at ease, and their bedside manner was amazing,” she says. “I have deep respect for Dr. Passik and his team.”
Determined to return to school in September, she spent the summer recovering while trying to cultivate healthier lifestyle habits: taking nature walks, watching movies, reducing salt intake and placing chicken and vegetables in regular rotation at dinnertime.
When the first bell of the school year sounded, she was back in action — and ready to ring in a new chapter.
Visit us at Good Samaritan Hospital, a member of Westchester Medical Center Health Network, to learn more. Advancing Care. Here.
Photos by Stefan Radtke