The Story of Mike Barr
Saved His Lungs to Save His Heart
Michael J. Cuttica, MD Pulmonology
S. Christopher Malaisrie, MD Cardiac Surgery
Daniel R. Schimmel, MD Interventional Cardiology
Meet Mike Barr.
Mike’s the sort of person who might live in your neighborhood or shop at your grocery store. In his own words, he’s “just a plain Jane guy.” As a pipefitter, he built a career out of working with his hands and hauling equipment on a day-to-day basis. So when he began to inexplicably slow down, it was a legitimate cause for concern.
He could hardly climb a few steps.
At 49 years old, Mike initially attributed his fatigue to age and lack of fitness.
I’m taking five steps and I’m literally out of breath.
But all of that changed when he began spitting up blood after a full day of work. While driving to the hospital, Mike figured his job was at risk, but he had yet to learn his life was at risk, too.
Mike’s Heart was Failing
His Team Found a Way to Save Him
Mike’s expert team
Backed by a system of world-class personnel, resources and facilities, Daniel Schimmel, MD, S. Christopher Malaisrie, MD, and Michael Cuttica, MD, lead the Northwestern Medicine Comprehensive Acute and Chronic Pulmonary Embolism Response Team.
Even if we’re not on call, we’re there to support each other for this type of patient.
Unlike most health systems, Northwestern Medicine offered Mike access to an interventional cardiologist, cardiac surgeon and pulmonologist simultaneously, saving valuable time.
Perfecting a New, Breakthrough Treatment
Bringing Mike Back
For a month, Mike was stabilized in an induced coma. But this was no restful sleep. Led by Dr. Cuttica, a tireless team of nurses helped Mike fend off acute hypoxic respiratory failure ― a lack of oxygen in the blood ― and a serious infection. By the time Mike was awakened, his team had given him a diagnosis: chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH), a condition caused by blood clots deep in the lungs. Even if he survived his critical illness, traditional therapies would prevent him from enjoying the life he once had ― leaving him connected to an oxygen tank indefinitely.
Clearing the Way
Chronic clogging and debris buildup in his lungs had brought the right side of Mike’s heart to the brink of failure. In order to remove the clots, Dr. Malaisrie performed a high-risk pulmonary endarterectomy, opening and clearing the arteries that led into Mike’s lungs. This lengthy procedure removed nearly 90% of the clotting, yet Mike’s team knew that to fully restore blood flow, more had to be done.
This procedure is incredibly satisfying because the difference before operation and after operation is apparent immediately.
A Groundbreaking Procedure
Anchored by the No. 1 hospital and top-ranked cardiology and heart surgery program in Illinois,* Northwestern Medicine empowers its clinical teams to pioneer groundbreaking treatments. That’s why Dr. Schimmel had visited specialists in the U.S., Japan and Europe years in advance to study and craft the best treatment options for cases just like Mike’s.
To reopen the tiny arteries in the far corners of Mike’s lungs, Dr. Schimmel performed a minimally invasive balloon pulmonary angioplasty. Using tiny, inflated balloons, Dr. Schimmel was able to gently open the delicate vessels and restore blood flow to Mike’s heart.
After I had the surgery, I was breathing like a teenager living in a 49-year-old body.
It was the first time the procedure had ever been performed in Illinois, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital remains the only hospital in the state with a comprehensive CTEPH program offering both the surgical and minimally invasive procedure.*Northwestern Memorial Hospital by U.S. News & World Report, 2022–23.
Everyone's a Team
Northwestern Medicine isn’t just a physician paradigm of decision-making…every clinician adds value. At Northwestern Medicine, everyone is part of the team.
What Makes Us Better, Makes You Better.®
The Strength of a System
Collectively, Mike, his wife Lori, their three children and a grandson took their first deep breath in months. The combination of therapies had produced an unprecedented result: Mike would do more than just survive; he would have a higher quality of life with a staggering increase in oxygen count, from 85% to 99%.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that first breath.
But the success of Mike’s treatment is not his alone. Dr. Cuttica, Dr. Malaisrie, Dr. Schimmel and their entire team’s inventive and collaborative approach to treating blood clots in the far corners of lungs has breathed new life into hundreds of patients and counting.