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CTEPH Care Saves Woman’s Heart - And Her Quality of Life

Dolores Crossland lived an active lifestyle – until she began experiencing shortness of breath, which required her to be on oxygen and even caused her to black out. One episode led to her diagnosis of chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension, or CTEPH. CTEPH is a rare form of pulmonary hypertension (PH) that, if left untreated, can lead to serious health problems.

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CTEPH Care Saves Woman’s Heart - And Her Quality of Life

A life-changing phone call

In April 2016, Dolores’ son made a phone call that would change everything for his mother.

Dolores was experiencing another one of her frequent blackouts and found herself unable to get up after regaining consciousness. She contacted her son who immediately called 9-1-1.

“I figured I was tired, because I was taking care of my husband,” Dolores said. “I was more or less his ‘round-the-clock nurse.”

When EMS personnel arrived, they also noticed Dolores’ husband’s poor health. The couple, married for 56 years at the time, were both transported and admitted to a local hospital.

There, she underwent testing and received treatment for pulmonary emboli (PE), which are blood clots in the lungs. The staff also found that her heart’s right ventricle – the lower right chamber, which pumps blood to the lungs – was larger than her left.

Months of tests and doctor visits passed with no explanation for the blood clots. But when the blood pressure in the arteries of her lungs went up, Dolores’ cardiologist knew she needed more specialized care – and sent her to AHN to get it.

CTEPH answers and options at AHN

Dolores’ cardiologist referred her to AHN physicians Manreet K. Kanwar, MD, a board-certified cardiologist, and Robert Moraca, MD, a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon. The two doctors were finally able to get Dolores the answers she needed, diagnosing her with CTEPH.

CTEPH is a rare form of pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs and right side of the heart. CTEPH is the only form of pulmonary hypertension that is curable, but it’s hard to diagnose. Many physicians are unaware of it because the symptoms match those of many other conditions.

But AHN is dedicated to increasing primary care physicians’ and general cardiologists’ knowledge about CTEPH. And Dolores’ cardiologist was among those who had taken advantage of AHN’s CTEPH community education initiative.

‘Nothing to lose’

After hearing her CTEPH treatment options, Dolores chose pulmonary endarterectomy (PEA) – a highly effective treatment and the only cure for CTEPH.

During pulmonary endarterectomy, a cardiothoracic surgeon removes all clots from the lungs. Only a handful of surgeons in the United States – which includes those at AHN – can perform the procedure, because the delicate blood vessels require highly skilled hands and special training. Without both, clot removal can damage the arteries and cause other complications.

“When Drs. Kanwar and Moraca told me what my life would be like without the surgery, I knew I didn’t want to live that way,” said Dolores. “My room was full of oxygen tanks.

“When [the CTEPH symptoms] came on, I really didn’t have a life. I was afraid to go anywhere, scared that I’d run out of oxygen. I felt I had nothing to lose by going ahead with the surgery.”

Giving patients their lives back

In addition to Drs. Kanwar and Moraca, Dolores’ care team also included Raymond Benza, MD, a board-certified cardiologist who specializes in heart failure, cardiac transplantation, mechanical circulatory support, and pulmonary hypertension. Dr. Benza and his team manage CTEPH patients like Dolores before and after surgery.

Throughout the entire process, they constantly monitored Dolores, staying in close communication about her care. They worked hard to make sure the procedure would be as low-risk and successful as possible. Following the surgery, Dr. Benza and his team also worked to maintain low blood pressure in the arteries of her lungs so her heart could get healthy again.

 “CTEPH’s curability really depends on the skill of the surgeon,” Dr. Benza said, “and a surgeon’s ability to remove a majority of the clots. If blood pressure comes down, then the heart can snap back into size and shape.”

And that’s exactly what happened to Dolores. Her CTEPH care team cured her. She’s now walking 3 to 5 miles every day – and is no longer on oxygen.

“I was given my life back, and I’m making the most of it.”

Contact us

Request an appointment with one of our experts or get more information about the Allegheny Health Network Cardiovascular Institute.