AHA News: Heart Failure At 35 Years Old Helped New York Cardiologist Care For Patients – Consumer Health News
FRIDAY, March 26, 2021 (American Heart Association News) – Unlike most of his cardiology colleagues, Dr. Satjit “Saj” Bhusri has personal experiences with heart disease – and he doesn’t hesitate to share his story with patients.
Sometimes he even shows them a picture. Lying in a hospital bed, he’s on a ventilator and covered in ice to relieve a raging fever – the result of a viral infection that led to heart failure by the age of 35.
“My wife thought it was the last picture of me still alive,” he said. It’s the background on his phone, a constant reminder of what he’s been through.
Saj’s symptoms began after the couple returned from a two-week trip to Thailand in 2015. He first developed recurring fevers and shortness of breath, which he believes were caused by a virus. Within a few days he could barely get up.
His wife Ayesha grew more concerned by the hour and took him to Lenox Hill Hospital, where he then worked as the Associate Program Director for the Cardiology Fellowship. One of his colleagues did an echocardiogram, which showed that Saj’s heart was barely pumping.
It’s the last thing Saj remembers before doctors put him into a medically induced coma and transferred him to a center that specializes in advanced heart failure therapy. The facility was equipped for a heart transplant.
Doctors told Ayesha that Saj had fulminant myocarditis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the heart muscle that can lead to an irregular heartbeat, organ failure, and a type of shock that prevents the heart from pumping enough blood to sustain the body. In addition, the infection sent him into septic shock, which caused his blood pressure to become dangerously low and his organs to fail.
“He was so unwell and he got worse so quickly,” said Ayesha. “It’s so rare at such a young age that you’re struck by lightning.”
It’s been a long week. One night, Saj’s heart stopped momentarily before doctors resuscitated him with CPR. On the way he developed blood clots all over his body. The worst was in his right wrist, which went black from lack of blood flow.
Surgeons were able to restore blood flow. After that, his hand was paralyzed.
“My one-year mortality rate at one point was 90%,” he said. “It was a gift and a curse to know too much about it.”
Even after he was released from the hospital, Saj knew he only had a 50:50 chance of living another year.
To increase these chances, he threw himself into occupational therapy and cardiac rehabilitation, first walking and then jogging. In addition to building stamina, he was able to use his right hand again.
“The cardiac rehabilitation was better than any pill I’ve ever taken,” he said. “I’m as fit as a violin, fitter than I was before I got sick.”
And he’s determined to stay healthy. He works out with a trainer a few times a week, stops drinking soda, and switches to a mostly plant-based, low-salt diet.
He also sees a therapist talking about the anxiety and depression that began after leaving the hospital. Some nights he was so worried that his heart failed again that he went to the emergency room.
“There is hypervigilance that you get after a traumatic event,” Saj said. That’s why he makes sure he speaks to his patients about mental health and the benefits of counseling. “I really understand what you are going through.”
Almost fully recovered, Saj is focused on the future. In 2018, Ayesha gave birth to the couple’s first child, Emma. Last year he started his own practice in Manhattan.
He hopes that sharing his story with patients will inspire them to invest in their own heart health.
“This experience has given me many tools to start a conversation with patients,” he said. “Such a life event really reverberates in your family and society, and I want it to reverberate even further and louder.”
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By Tate Gunnerson