Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute Team Celebrates with Patient Honored for World War II Heroism

Northwestern Medicine
Cardiology August 27, 2017

During a snowstorm in Belgium in 1945, American soldier J. Herman Sitrick singlehandedly captured 21 German soldiers, saving the lives of countless Allied fighters and civilians.

Nearly seven decades later, the French government honored the 92-year-old from Morton Grove, Ill. with the Legion d’Honneur, the country’s highest award for military and civil actions, for his service that day during the Battle of the Bulge as well as on the front lines of other World War II battles.

In the audience as Sitrick accepted the award were members of the Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute team who helped replace a faulty aortic valve through TAVR, or transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). With a minimally invasive approach, TAVR allows higher risk patients to reap the benefits of valve replacement without undergoing open heart surgery.

Duc Thinh Pham, MD, a cardiac surgeon, as well as Jennifer Hearn, PA, and Elizabeth Leahy, RN, both with the TAVR program, attended the ceremony as Sitrick’s guests. Charles Davidson, MD, medical director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute who worked with Dr. Pham on Sitrick’s procedure, was unable to attend because of a medical emergency at the hospital.

Dr. Pham called Sitrick a “hero among heroes.”

“It was a great honor that he and his family invited his Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute team to the ceremony,” said Dr. Pham. “Men and women of his generation who sacrificed all they had to serve the Untied States and the world are heroes. What he did makes him a hero among heroes.”

Dr. Davidson said it was “a privilege to help a distinguished war veteran and an American hero.”

“This is a man who sacrificed for our country,” said Dr. Davidson. “He was in need of aortic valve replacement to extend his life and improve his quality of life. In some small way, I hope this was another thank you for his duty and accomplishments. I wish him continued health and prosperity.”

For Sitrick, the real heroes were the medical team that allowed him to receive the medal at the age of 92. He said he invited the TAVR team to the ceremony because he felt he had developed a “special relationship” with them during the course of treatment, describing the group as “warm, charming and caring.”

“They are not just the best medical care providers you could ask for, they are wonderful people,” Sitrick said. “Dr. Pham, Beth and Jenny’s presence at the award ceremony meant the world to me. As one example of going above and beyond, when I was in the hospital, Beth popped down to check on me, just out of a sense of caring even though she was not part of the nursing staff caring for me on the floor.”

“I can’t shower them with enough praise,” he added. 

To learn more about the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, call 312.NM.HEART.

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