Cover Story

Cardio Care: SLUCare Physician Group

Denny Schaab isn’t your typical cardiovascular patient. Late last year, the Catholic priest checked into the ER with chest pain, but he felt fairly comfortable and the situation didn’t seem too alarming on the surface. The underlying problem, however, turned out to be extremely serious.

SLUCare cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Dawn Hui says Schaab had an aortic dissection, a defect in a major blood vessel leading out of his heart, which usually causes searing pain and serious distress. (It’s the same condition that caused the sudden death of actor John Ritter in 2003.) The SLUCare team performed an echocardiogram and other tests, then quickly prepared Schaab for surgery at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, saving his life and allowing him to return to his congregation at Immacolata Catholic Church.

Besides not showing the expected symptoms of aortic dissection, Schaab also didn’t have most of the usual risk factors, Hui says. “The main ones are hypertension, smoking and family history,” she notes. “Schaab just had hypertension, and it was well-controlled with medication. So his aortic dissection was a surprising discovery.” Hui says that if the defect hadn’t been found in time, Schaab would have been at high risk for a stroke, heart attack or organ failure. “Or, his aorta may have ruptured, which is life-threatening,” she notes. To examine the blood vessel and repair it, the surgical team cooled his body down to temporarily stop circulation and corrected the flaw with a graft made of Dacron.

“People need to be more aware of the effects of hypertension,” Hui says. “We see otherwise healthy, even young people with aortic dissection, and it can have a huge impact on their lives.” She says researchers continue to study genetic factors, and people with a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) who is affected should be screened. Schaab’s case underscores the importance of regular health care and a strong relationship with your doctor, Hui adds. There may be a problem that doesn’t appear in your family history but still could be life-threatening.

“The SLUCare team was extraordinary throughout the process,” Schaab says. “Dr. Hui’s personal care and the team’s interest in my case were so professional.” He says he is feeling good and has returned to work at his parish. “I knew Dr. Hui was a Juilliard-trained musician, so I asked her to play the violin at the Mass of thanksgiving to celebrate my recovery,” he recalls. “She immediately said yes.”

SLUCare Physician Group provides a comprehensive, personalized approach to cardiovascular care. Pictured on the cover: Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Dawn Hui. For more information, call 314.977.4663 or visit slucare.edu/cardiology.

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo courtesy of SLUCare Physician Group

Pictured above: Dr. Dawn Hui consults with Rev. Denny Schaab.

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