Chase, now 27, went on to a healthy, successful life. She became a nurse practitioner in pediatric critical care, married and had a son.
In 2013, Chase and her husband were given the OK to have another baby and they soon conceived. But in May 2013, when Chase was in Phoenix visiting family, she became ill. She had a serious infection in her blood stream, causing her to miscarry. Tests showed her donor aortic valve was failing.
When she again needed heart surgery 13 years after that first procedure, Chase, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, searched for Dr. Teodori, now interim chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery and director of pediatric and adult congenital heart surgery at the University of Arizona Department of Surgery. From her hospital room, Chase told Dr. Teodori about the situation via email. Within the hour, the doctor was on the phone with Chase.
"I had such a great, successful surgery the first time around; for me it was a no-brainer to come back to Dr. Teodori," said Chase. "I trusted him, and I knew he was going to do the best surgery for me."
On June 7, 2013, Dr. Teodori performed what is known as a Ross Procedure, using Chase's own valve and a donor valve to repair the heart. He removed Chase's failing donor aortic valve, cut out her entire pulmonary valve and moved it to the aorta. A donor pulmonary valve was used to replace her pulmonary valve.
"You reconstruct the person's aortic valve with his or her own pulmonary valve so it is their tissue and it won't be rejected," said Dr. Teodori.
Not only did Dr. Teodori repair her heart in a complex, seven-hour procedure that is performed by only a few surgeons in the West, he restored hope that Chase and her husband can have more children. Other heart valve operations use a mechanical valve. However, if a mechanical valve had been used, Chase would have been on blood thinners for life, making it unlikely she could carry another baby.
Within a few weeks following surgery, Chase was feeling better. She was back at work at six weeks and has started running and practicing yoga again. She and her husband are planning for another baby.
Dr. Teodori believes Chase might not need future heart surgery. "The expectation for Whitney is that she should be able to do anything she wants to do, including having kids," he said.
To thank Dr. Teodori, Chase, her father, a captain with the Phoenix Fire Department, and the family personalized a fire helmet with Dr. Teodori's name, the dates of the two surgeries, messages of thanks from each family member and a photo of Chase, her husband, Jeff, and their 2-year-old son, Dean.
"The fire helmet represents saving lives, and we felt it was the most appropriate thing to show Dr. Teodori there is nothing more important than what he has done for our family," Chase said.
"Dr. Teodori made such a big impact in my life. I always felt I was a participant in my care and that he listened to my concerns and questions. Because he was able to offer the Ross Procedure, we now have a lot of hope. He was a blessing at a very stressful time for us," she said.
Dr. Teodori called the fireman's helmet "the neatest gift I have ever gotten from a patient."
Over the years, Dr. Teodori had kept up with Chase. Her parents sent photos and she sent him a school essay she wrote about her first heart surgery, which he kept in his files. When Chase became a nurse practitioner, her parents sent Dr. Teodori a note, letting him know how well she was doing.
He is pleased to see Chase doing so well in life. "Whitney pays it forward by having become an acute care nurse practitioner, taking care of children herself," he said. "The fact that Whitney came back and found me really touches my heart," Dr. Teodoriadded. "It's what you hope to do in medicine - get them back a normal life, and see them pay it forward."
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