IN Sewickley Spring 2022 - Page 6

Unlocking a puzzle , saving a life .

Little did Travis Ruffus know that moving cross-country would save his life . He was living in Bakersfield , CA , with his wife and three daughters , working long days in the oil fields and doing Crossfit four times a week when he contracted Valley Fever , or coccidiomycosis , a fungal spore that ’ s common in the western United States .
This was in the fall of 2018 . He was treated with antimicrobials , and recovered quickly . But six months later , any form of exertion left him exhausted . “ I couldn ’ t even walk up a flight of stairs ,” he said . Then he began feeling increased pressure on the right side of his heart . “ I thought , is this what 42 feels like ? What ’ s going on ?” His primary care and infectious disease doctors insisted it was residual effects of Valley Fever . But that August , Travis and his family relocated to Pittsburgh . He saw AHN infectious disease doctor , Eric Bihler , who suspected there was more to the story and referred Travis to cardiologist Dr . Lindsay Mehring .
“ I finally felt I was in good hands ,” Travis said . Dr . Mehring did a series of stress tests , then referred Travis to Dr . Hayah Kassis-George , a heart failure and transplant specialist . She did a ventilation-perfusion scan and a pulmonary angiogram . Those tests revealed blood clots in Travis ’ s lungs , suggesting chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension ( CTEPH ) — a rare disease with symptoms similar to asthma , COPD , and cardiovascular disease .

“ Dr . Lee and the AHN team are my real-life superheroes . I hope they know how thankful I am .”

The larger team of AHN Cardiovascular Institute specialists agreed with her diagnosis : Travis needed a pulmonary thromboendarterectomy ( PTE ), an intricate procedure involving open-heart surgery . “ By surgically removing the blood clots from arterial branches in the lungs , we could reverse his heart failure ,” said cardiothoracic surgeon Dr . Candice Lee , one of few surgeons in the U . S . trained to perform PTE . Travis had never heard of CTEPH . And the thought of open heart surgery was scary . “ But the hardest thing to wrap my mind around was what would happen to my daughters if they were to lose their father .”
Thanks to the focused care and expertise of his doctors and his dedicated nurse navigator , Travis is well on his way to full recovery . “ Only a handful of doctors can perform the surgery I had . I was in the best possible hands ,” Travis said . “ Dr . Lee and the AHN team are my real-life superheroes . I hope they know how thankful I am .”


Source : www . atsjournals . org / doi / 10.1513 / AnnalsATS . 201509-621AS