Specialized Care from the Heart: Crozer-Keystone’s Heart Team - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on August 05, 2015

Specialized Care from the Heart: Crozer-Keystone’s Heart Team

Media Contact:
Mary Wascavage
(610) 284-8619

Practice Contact:
HAN Cardiovascular Group
(610) 521-0150

Jeanette Hartunian

Regular check-ups with her primary care doctor
and cardiologist helped save Jeanette Hartunian's
life by detecting a potentially fatal enlarged aorta.

Essington resident Jeanette Hartunian is lucky to be alive. And she credits Barbara Walters as the catalyst. After the longtime news anchor had open heart surgery in 2010, she urged all women to have a cardiac checkup. Hartunian saw that message and heeded the call.

“Because I was having heart palpitations and no other symptoms, I went to my primary care doctor,” she says. “He ordered some tests and tried some medications, but there was no confirmed diagnosis at that time.”

A few years later, and still exhibiting the same symptoms, Hartunian decided to see a cardiologist. Her primary care physician at that time referred her to Crozer-Keystone’s Aymen Alrez, M.D., who encouraged her to have a cardiac catheterization. She did so in December 2014, and the test found an enlarged aorta. “Had I not gotten it checked out, I would never have known,” she says. “My aorta could have burst and I would have died.”

Alrez recommended that Hartunian see specialist Charles Geller, M.D., chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery for Crozer-Keystone Health System. Wasting no time, Geller performed an aortic valve and root replacement with coronary re-implantation combined with a replacement of the ascending aorta and aortic hemi arch. “I used a newer technique called hypothermic circulatory arrest with antigrade cerebral perfusion,” Geller says. “It involves cooling the person’s body to a low temperature, draining all the blood, performing the surgery, then reintroducing the blood back into the body and gradually warming the patient back up. The operation is performed while the patient is in a state of suspended animation, but blood is continually delivered directly to the brain during the procedure. To some, it sounds like science fiction.”

For Hartunian, a longtime actress who has performed in productions all over the country, the choice to have Geller care for her was an easy one. “I Googled him,” she says, “and was impressed with his training and credentials. When I met him he was very personable, thorough and easy to understand. He explained everything to me one-on-one.”

After the surgery, Hartunian spent five days as an inpatient at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. She is currently in the cardiac rehabilitation program at Springfield Hospital, and is committed to eating right and finding time to fit the right types of exercise into her day. “They told me at rehab: no lifting snow, bags of mulch or anything heavy. I’m working to take good care of myself and to listen to what my doctors and therapists tell me.”

Hartunian now sees Alrez regularly to monitor her medications as she continues to heal and improve. When asked for her advice, she sounds a little like Barbara Walters did five years ago when she says,”Ladies, get your hearts checked out!” This is especially important if, like Hartunian, you have a family history of heart disease. As for her Crozer-Keystone experience, Hartunian was thrilled with Geller’s outgoing nature, skill and follow-through.

Crozer-Keystone is a longtime leader in the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of patients with cardiac disease. For more information about its cardiovascular programs, visit www.crozerkeystone.org/heart. Call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258) to find a cardiologist or cardiovascular surgeon who’s right for you.

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