JESSICA’S STORY

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It all started when…

At just 31 years old, Jessica Tramaglini is steadily recovering from heart surgery recently performed by the caring and skilled hands of UT Physicians cardiovascular surgeon Anthony Estrera, M.D.

Tramaglini had long known of her heart condition – a malformed aortic valve at birth that did not open completely, causing a blockage to blood flow known as aortic stenosis. Through continuous monitoring and annual check-ups, she had been able to manage her condition.

It was at an annual check-up in the winter of 2017, when her UT Physicians cardiologist Siddharth Prakash, M.D., associate professor of cardiology at McGovern Medical School, noticed that she had developed a widening, or aneurysm, of her aorta.  The largest artery in the body, the aorta transfers oxygenated blood from the heart to the body. A ruptured aorta can often be fatal and occur without warning.

An avid runner, with many half-marathons under her belt, and fitness enthusiast, Tramaglini has always taken steps to combat health problems through prevention – exercising regularly, eating healthy and annual check-ups.  But at this check-up, Dr. Prakash was alarmed that Jessica’s aorta had significantly enlarged in less than one year, an indication that her disease was progressing rapidly.

“Because of the research investigations done by UTHealth, we are much more attuned to identifying patients before they develop problems and can take action before complications become worse,” says Dr. Estrera, professor and chief of cardiac surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

Following a thorough assessment and evaluation by Dr. Estrera, Tramaglini was told that she needed surgery to repair her aortic aneurysm and was given options about her diseased aortic valve – intervene and salvage the aortic valve, or replace her aortic valve with a metal valve.  Tramaglini says that having the opportunity to plan the type of surgery she would have and to schedule her procedure at a time that would best align with her life was a luxury that many aortic surgery candidates do not have.  Her procedure was scheduled for May 2018 at a local hospital.

“It was important that we intervene sooner because of the risk of aortic complications,” Dr. Estrera explains.

“Based on her constellation of risk factors, including her diseased aortic valve, aortic aneurysm and other congenital heart problems that we discovered leading up to her surgery, we felt that Jessica was at high risk to develop a dissection or rupture of her aorta,” Dr. Prakash adds. “I was amazed when Dr. Estrera told me how thin her aortic wall was. This really validated our decision to proceed with the surgery.”

Following her procedure, Tramaglini returned home for a recovery that she describes as a “roller-coaster.”  “One day everything is great, and the next it could be a real struggle.  No amount of documentation and research can prepare you for what you will experience – both as a patient and as a family member,” Tramaglini says.

Tramaglini says this experience has taught her the importance of family. “It’s important to remember that this sort of occurrence not only affects the patient, but their family, friends and lifestyle,” she says.

Tramaglini and her family members will be honored at this year’s inaugural LIVE ON CV Strong 5k Fun Run at 8 a.m., Sept. 8, at United Way of Greater Houston.

— Caliann Ferguson, LIVE ON