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Unbeatable Team Scores A Win to Repair VA Man’s Aortic Valve

Growing up in Garfield Heights, Andrew Berdysz loved to play basketball, baseball and football. You’d hardly know he was born with a ventricular septal defect (VSD) — a hole in the wall that separates the lower chambers of the heart. If the hole is large enough, blood can leak between the chambers and cause permanent damage to the heart and lungs.

From birth, the 38-year-old received pediatric heart care at Cleveland Clinic. By the age of 16, he had two surgeries to correct issues related to his VSD. After his last surgery, his doctor said he’d need another one in 15 to 18 years.

In 2008, Andrew moved to northern Virginia where he got married and had three children. His family purchased a boutique residential landscape maintenance company in 2017. He continued to have regular heart checkups at a hospital near Washington, DC, where he was told everything was OK.

“Something was telling me I should get a second opinion since it was 21 years since my last surgery. I knew Cleveland Clinic was the only hospital that would give me a fighting chance to keep my valve if something was wrong,” recalls Andrew.

In December 2022, Andrew came back to his heart care roots at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Pediatric and Adult Congenital Heart Center. In one day, Andrew saw a team of congenital heart specialists and had all necessary tests to assess his heart.

“I was provided with white-glove service. All resources were available to me at one appointment. As an out-of-town patient, it was so efficient and encompassing,” says Andrew.

Andrew had two important tests that day — an echocardiogram and cardiac CT scan — that would give an accurate assessment.

The Berdysz family including Andrew, his wife, and three children on vacation.

Left photo: Andrew poses with his son Dawson. Right photo: Christina and Andrew (back row) with their children Meriam, Noelle and Dawson. (Courtesy: Andrew Berdysz)

“With unique training as a cardiac anatomist, I was able to provide a detailed assessment and measurements, from advanced 3D and 4D imaging, to understand the geometry of Andrew’s aorta, a complex structure. This allowed us to personalize planning for aortic valve surgery,” explains Justin Tretter, MD, a pediatric cardiologist, cardiac anatomist and Co-Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Congenital Valve Procedural Planning Center.

From the cardiac CT imaging, Dr. Tretter created 3D and 4D reconstructions to help visualize the detailed structure of Andrew’s heart.

He met with Hani Najm, MD, a cardiac surgeon and Co-Director of Congenital Valve Procedural Planning Center, to review the detailed CT images and measurements of the aortic root structure, which includes the aortic valve leaflets (the part of the aorta that allows blood to flow) and the sinuses and fibrous interleaflet triangles (found between the leaflet attachments). This helps to identify the unique characteristics of a valve and its defect.

“We saw that Andrew’s aortic leaflets weren’t closing properly because of an enlarged valve root. This was causing severe leakage,” says Dr. Najm. “My main goal was to try and preserve Andrew’s aortic valve rather than replace it with a mechanical one. Because of Dr. Tretter’s sophisticated 4D images, we had a blueprint of what the problem was and we were able to develop a detailed surgical plan to repair the valve.”

Dr. Najm performed a valve-sparing aortic root replacement surgery on Andrew in February 2023. During the eight-hour procedure, Andrew was placed on a heart bypass machine while part of the aorta that’s directly attached to the heart was repaired — enabling Andrew to keep his natural aortic valve. Dr. Tretter took various 3D and 4D images to assist with the procedure.

The Berdysz family including Andrew, his wife, and three children (left). Andrew standing next to his wife (right).

Left photo: More family time with children Dawson, Noelle and Meriam with Christina and Andrew. Right photo: Andrew (right) with his wife Christina. (Courtesy: Andrew Berdysz)

Following surgery, Andrew spent a week recovering at Cleveland Clinic.

“Andrew and I have so many life similarities — we both have three children, we’re about the same age and we both love our career paths. It truly resonated with me why it’s so important that we provide such high-level valve care and have unique surgical expertise that’s game-changing at the Congenital Valve Procedural Planning Center,” says Dr. Tretter.

The chances of Andrew needing another valve surgery are quite low. He’ll have yearly checkups to ensure his heart continues to function properly.

Now, Andrew doesn’t crash on the couch after work and he can keep up with his three kids. Before surgery, he didn’t realize his exhaustion was abnormal.

“My heart surgery was like winning the Super Bowl because my team of caregivers were unbeatable,” says Andrew. “I’m beyond thankful and blessed for the heart care I received at Cleveland Clinic.”

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