Did you know Heart and Lung Disease affects people of all ages. Men, women, young and old, fit and healthy?
These are the stories of those who are helped by our work.
On Anzac Day 2009, Cheryl Baume was diagnosed with ‘pulmonary oedema’. In recent years, what was thought to be ‘asthma’ had her gasping for breath and urgently calling the ambulance.
On going to a heart specialist, the mild heart murmur she had for years was re-diagnosed as much more acute. By mid 2010, after another echo cardiogram, her heart specialist surprised her by suggesting it was time to consult a heart surgeon. She was referred to Professor Paul Bannon.
“We were even more surprised upon meeting Professor Bannon that he recommended I have an aortic heart valve replacement in a couple of weeks. Once we got over the shock, we decided ‘why not’ as by then I was exhausted after even mild activity.”
Myth: Heart and lung disease is a blokes thing…
Women make up more than two-thirds of Australians with heart failure (The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2004). Women are also 4 times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer(The Heart Foundation).
On 1 July 2010, Cheryl had the operation. During the surgery it was apparent Cheryl had a lot of calcification around her heart which hadn’t shown up in the angiogram. Her family was told of the possibility that a piece of this may have dislodged during the operation so there was a risk of stroke – nothing would be clear until she woke up.
“You can imagine the stress my family went through waiting for hours for me to wake up. Meantime, unaware of this I woke up, relieved I had survived and thrilled it was over. After a few days, when it was obvious all was well, the doctors explained to me their initial fears.”
Currently, research is being undertaken into less intrusive methods of operating – one way currently being explored is to insert the new heart valve through the heart wall and inside the existing valve.
“Hopefully in 15 years when I need a new valve, they’ll use this technique with no concerns for my dodgy veins and calcified arteries. Isn’t research wonderful!”
“Now, so many months after the surgery, I can’t believe how differently I feel and the number of friends who have commented on my better appearance and healthy glow!”
Cheryl’s pulmonary oedema is a direct result of heart failure which is one of The Baird Institute’s core areas of research focus.
David Curnow was a fit, 35 year old father of two daughters aged 20 months and almost 3 months when he underwent heart bypass surgery.
Prior to his surgery he led an active, healthy lifestyle; running almost daily and competing in half marathons.
About a month before his surgery he had been experiencing chest pains during runs.
“At first I thought I was just having an off day and would try to push through. However the frequency of the chest pains increased, even while relaxing at home watching Masterchef.”
Two of David’s work colleagues, one in his 30s the other in his 50s had died from heart attacks in 2011 so he was very worried. Not being a “typical” heart attack candidate, GPs had failed to diagnose any problem.
In Australia today it is estimated that one third of all Australians will die from some form of coronary artery disease.
Approximately 400,000 Australians are walking around today with Aortic Disease.
Myth: I exercise regularly so I don't need to think about heart disease.
Approximately 400,000 Australians are walking around today with Aortic Disease. These diseases can affect people of any age at any time – even babies and young children.
A chance conversation with a good friend, Baird Institute surgeon Associate Professor Michael Vallely, led to an appointment with a cardiologist, Professor Ian Wilcox, and a few days later a heart bypass performed by Professor Paul Bannon.
“I was diagnosed as having a 99% blockage in my left anterior descending artery - also known as the ‘widow maker’.
“I was told it was only a matter of a week or two before I would have suffered a massive and likely fatal heart attack. I am so grateful that Professor Bannon was available to perform my surgery so soon. The alternative does not bear thinking.”
In Australia diseases of the heart, lungs and blood vessels kill more people than any other disease.
These diseases can affect people of any age at any time – even babies and young children.
Severe coronary heart disease at present is predominantly treated by surgery.
The Baird Institute is unique among medical research organisations.
We are the only group in Australia to focus entirely on clinical and surgical cardiothoracic conditions. Our focus is ALL diseases of the heart, lung, chest wall and diaphragm that are treatable with surgery. Our commitment is to the patients who have been diagnosed with these serious conditions and require surgery.
Severe coronary heart disease, at present is predominantly treated by surgery.
While research into heart and lung disease is being done, little time, effort and money is directed to improvements in surgical techniques for the most frequently diagnosed forms of heart and lung disease.
The Baird Institute strives for better patient outcomes by improving clinical practice, testing new methods of surgery and ensuring that post-operative care is the best it can be.
Our focus is on supporting patients and reducing the overall burden of health care on the community.
“Three months on from my surgery I have resumed my normal activities and have eased back into running.”
“I have spoken to other heart bypass patients and I am so pleased that I received a mammary artery graft which will, as far as anyone knows, last me the rest of my life.”
“No one is safe from cardiovascular disease. This experience has changed my life. The greatest lesson is to listen to your body if things do not seem quite right.”
“I cannot adequately express how thankful I am for the vital work conducted by the Baird Institute to develop new techniques to improve surgical outcomes for people in my situation.”
Jamie Dallimore was first diagnosed with aortic stenosis as a young child. The family GP, Dr Andrew Bonney, first picked up Jamie’s heart murmur when he was one about one year old. As a result, he has been seeing a cardiologist all his life to monitor the progress of his heart condition.
Just before Christmas last year Jamie was told he had between one and five years to live unless he had surgery for this heart condition.
“I got a big pit in my stomach when I heard what the doctor said. I had no symptoms, only shortness of breath, so you wouldn’t know,” said Jamie.
Myth: Heart and lung disease only affects older people…
Heart & Lung disease affects people of any age at any time.
“Going to see Paul Bannon for the first time was a fairly daunting experience. We knew we were there to discuss the process of the operation, so he gave us the full impact of what surgery would involve and made it all so real,” said Michele Dallimore, Jamie’s Mum.
“Before that, we were able to keep it at arms length, so to speak. It was very confronting and emotional for all of us. BUT we all walked away having full confidence in Paul as a surgeon. If Jamie had to be operated on, we were happy to have this guy do it.
“We now see the results of the surgery and how well Jamie has recovered and we know that it has a lot to do with the skill of the surgeon and his team and the care Jamie received while he was in hospital. We will be forever grateful to Paul and his team and the staff at Strathfield Private Hospital for looking after Jamie so well.”
“We feel overwhelming gratitude because they have given our son a second chance at life,” Michele added.
The surgery was a tremendous success and Jamie is now getting on with his life. He has just been accepted to study Nursing at the University of Tasmania at their Darlinghurst Campus and he will be attached to St Vincent’s and Mater Hospitals. Jamie now feels he can start his life afresh.
That gratitude prompted the Dallimores to want to give something back. Jamie, Steve, Jamie’s Dad and his two older brothers, Tim and Jono, are all keen musicians. They came up with the idea of pooling their talents and joining with other musician friends to put on a blues concert to raise money for The Baird Institute. This was a tremendously successful event raising nearly $7000!
Jamie is on a bit of a high at the moment. He turned nineteen in October and was heard to say “I am so happy I made it to 19!”. He has now passed the six month anniversary date of his operation – a very big milestone.
Our best wishes go to Jamie, and our most sincere thanks to the Dallimore Family for all their support and generosity.
The Baird Institute researches coronary artery bypass surgery and is funding a PHD started in 2007 on the development of a vascular bypass conduit using synthetic human elastin. These techniques and advancements will directly help people like Jamie.
Justin Pounder and his family have had many unexpected challenges over the last few years.
“One Saturday in September 2003, my life changed dramatically. It was a pretty normal Saturday. I was the fittest I’d ever been, swimming 1500m three days a week and doing cardio and weights the other days. Five minutes into my warm-up I felt what could only be described as a tear down my spine, like a zipper being undone!”
Justin was rushed to hospital where a CT scan revealed a 32cm tear or rupture to his aorta.
Justin was only 31 years old.
Myth: I don't drink, smoke and I'm not overweight, there's no need to think about heart disease.
Genetic conditions like the very rare Loeys-Dietz Syndrome can affect anyone regardless of lifestyle.
The Pounder family has a history of heart conditions. Various members of Justin’s family including his father, a paternal aunt, two cousins, his paternal grandmother and greatgrandmother all had experienced some form of serious or fatal heart condition. Justin’s father had his aortic valve replaced and his enlarged ascending aorta reinforced. Justin’s young cousin died of heart failure at the age of 15.
Justin survived this first attack – but he was incredibly lucky to be alive.
Death can occur in as little as 11 seconds from a ruptured or torn aorta.
For six years after his first hospitalisation, Justin underwent multiple surgical and endovascular aortic procedures. After many complications, several hospitalisations and incredible uncertainty, Justin was finally diagnosed with a rare condition known Loeys-Dietz Syndrome.
In November 2009, Professor Paul Bannon replaced Justin’s ascending aorta and aortic valve and now in 2011 Justin is fully recovered.
Loeys-Dietz Syndrome, with features similar to Marfan’s Syndrome, is a genetic disorder which affects blood vessels in the body, especially the aorta - the largest artery and the main artery from the heart to the rest of the body. Since the syndrome is rare, it is not known how often it occurs or who is more likely to inherit it. Research into Loeys-Dietz is really just starting and more work needs to be done to continue to develop techniques that improve the life-expectancy for all those diagnosed with this rare and life threatening disorder.
In March 2010, Justin and Meg’s son Jeremy George was born.
“Immediately after Jeremy was born, a core blood sample was taken from the umbilical cord to see if he had the Loeys-Dietz gene. Six months later we were advised the good news that Jeremy definitely did not have Loeys-Dietz! The dodgy gene stops with me!”
“The words of Professor Richmond Jeremy’s grandfather to my grandmother in the 1950s came true that day… ‘In the future we will be able to fix this type of problem…’ - well I’m living proof of that… they’ve fixed me and through the wonders of IVF and DNA testing we’ve been able to test, screen and prevent passing on the dodgy gene to future generations!
“I’m eternally grateful to God for providing such a wonderful medical team from RPA – specifically Professor Paul Bannon, Professor Richmond Jeremy and Professor Geoff White. I am forever grateful for their wisdom, advice and professionalism!”
One key area of The Baird Institute research is the genetics of diseases of the aorta – research work that will help people like Justin who suffered from the very rare Loeys-Dietz Syndrome.
“In February 2007 I went into hospital for open heart surgery. I was 34 years old. I had been married for two years, had a one year old boy and a growing architectural practice.
Life was just beginning to get really interesting when I was diagnosed with an 80% blockage to my left anterior descending artery. Due to the rather tricky position it required a bypass graft (rather than just a stent).
I have always been fit and active, and I still am. At school and university I played representative level rugby and since leaving school have been an avid cyclist. I was not your typical heart surgery candidate.
Myth: I’m young, fit and healthy, I don’t need to think about heart & lung disease.
There are many unanswered questions about Heart & Lung disease and its causes. The Baird Institute surgeons are determined to find out why Heart & Lung disease affects people of all ages.
It was whilst cycling in October 2006 that I started to notice a pain in my chest which I put down to indigestion. The pain got worse over the ensuing months so I went to see my GP who, “to be on the safe side” immediately referred me to a cardiologist.
I had a number of tests and at each stage the response was the same, “you are a fit young man, what are you doing here”. The angiogram proved what everyone had feared, that there was a significant blockage in an artery going into my heart.
Within two weeks of the definite diagnosis and less than two months after my first visit to the GP I was being prepped for a surgical procedure that most of us associate only with those overweight and over 60.
The surgery was a success and I was back home after four days in hospital. As anyone who has been through an open heart procedure knows, the surgery is the easy bit for the patient. The tough bit is healing.
My son didn’t understand why I couldn’t pick him up. I had to get used to not doing anything for myself and was under strict instructions to not go near the office for what seemed like an eternity.
However, within six weeks of leaving hospital I was back on my bike, playing with my son and back at work. It sounds clichéd but coming through a procedure like this makes you re-evaluate your life, old problems and worries fade and a new and improved enjoyment of the simple things in life become the norm.
My wife and I now have a nine month old daughter to keep our son entertained, our architecture practice is thriving and we are enjoying an active and healthy life. I cannot quantify the gratitude that I feel towards the team of people, from my GP, to the Cardiovascular team that performed the surgery, to the nursing staff in the Intensive Care Unit, all of whom made it possible for me (and countless others) to have a second chance at life.
However, aside from my extreme gratitude, there are still many questions. There is much they already do know of course. Don’t smoke. Don’t be overweight. Don’t have a history of heart disease in your family! The knowledge and skill that has been developed by The Baird Institute and others in this field has directly and unbelievably benefited me and my family.
Two years later I am feeling great.”
In 2009 Ashley decided to enter the Anaconda Enduro race to raise money for The Baird Institute.
“I wanted to give something back. I wanted to do something that really demonstrated how successful my surgery was - and to get across the message that heart surgery is life saving and can be necessary for anyone at any age! So I entered a five day mountain bike race in the desert around Alice Springs! The Anaconda MTB Enduro - Red Centre.
For better or for worse I entered with the intention of finishing the race; raising the profile of The Baird Institute and its work and most importantly to raise as much money as I could. Oh, and ok, I might have had a bit of fun in the desert doing one of my favourite things!!
But I appreciate every day that I am alive to do it.”
Because of The Baird Institutes research into surgical techniques patients like Ashley Dunn benefit from less invasive surgeries and are able to recover faster and get back to living their lives.