Asthma. Bronchitis. Chest infection. Over a decade, physicians in Adimbora Seye-Alli’s native Nigeria cycled through a carousel of incorrect diagnoses for her mysterious chest pain. All the while, Mrs. Seye-Alli grew sicker as her husband and son helplessly stood by.
It turns out that she suffered from a leaky bicuspid valve in her heart. Eventually, her physicians said, surgery would be necessary.
The family decided to move to the United States to provide her with a higher level of medical care for her deteriorating condition. In January 2013, they made their way to Baltimore, barely. Mrs. Seye-Alli felt like she was going to pass out on the plane trip. She was rushed to a local hospital, transferred to a larger medical center and underwent valve replacement surgery within a week.
But not long after surgery, Mrs. Seye-Alli developed flu-like symptoms. She was dizzy and could only walk a short distance. She had developed endocarditis, a disease of the heart that can be tricky to diagnose, because its symptoms mimic flu symptoms, such as fever, sinus drainage, chills or sweats and vomiting. It can damage heart valves and lead to shortness of breath. While treatable with antibiotics, the disease can permanently damage the heart.
Before they could resign hope, though, a physician pulled them aside and offered one last possibility. “Why don’t you try Cleveland Clinic,” he said.
In April she underwent a second aortic valve replacement surgery, with poor results. Then, the family was told she needed a third surgery. This attempt also failed to stem the leakage, and she deteriorated quickly. Her physicians said there was nothing more they could do. She was referred to hospice care.
“They told me ‘You are going to die.’” She had an estimated five to 10 weeks to live, a devastating blow to Mrs. Seye-Alli and her family, who had journeyed so far and invested so much to find a surgical cure in America.
Before they could resign hope, though, a physician pulled them aside and offered one last possibility.
“Why don’t you try Cleveland Clinic,” he said.
In January 2014, after the long drive to Cleveland, Mrs. Seye-Alli became unresponsive, and was transferred to her intended destination, Cleveland Clinic, after receiving emergency stabilizing care.
“You have a problem with your plumbing system,” said Gosta Pettersson, MD, PhD, vice chair of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute at Cleveland Clinic, bringing a smile to Mrs. Seye-Alli’s face, a rarity during that time period. A few days later, she underwent surgery to again replace her valve with Dr. Pettersson at Cleveland Clinic’s Endocarditis Center, which is specially prepared to handle complex cases, with outstanding results. Damaged tissue and the ineffective replacement were skillfully removed, and a new valve sewn into place.
The surgery successfully restored valve function. Now, Mrs. Seye-Alli says she is “back to being human.” She walks a couple miles each day, and enjoys surprising people back in Baltimore simply by being alive.
“We’re ready to face any challenge,” Adeseye Alli says proudly of his wife and family.
“Thinking about everything Kimyah and DJ have been through, it was hard to imagine us ever getting to this point. It was unclear if they would be able to do anything by themselves. Now, they’re trying to do everything by themselves.”