Marvin Brenzo's Open Heart Surgery Story

On a blustery February day, Marvin Brenzo, 66, of Norwalk decided to use his snow blower to clear his driveway – giving a break to his wife, Judy, who had just cleaned off their sidewalk.

Marvin started to have trouble catching his breath which he attributed to the cold, brisk air. He came inside for a while, sitting in his favorite recliner in the living room while Judy was in the kitchen doing dishes. After a few moments, Judy turned to check on her husband and noticed he was unresponsive in the chair.

Judy sprang to action calling 9-1-1 and performed CPR on her husband until the Norwalk Fire Department first responders arrived to take over from Judy and continue basic life support.

“If it wasn’t for her,” Marvin said as he lovingly looked at his wife, “I’d be dead.”

Judy said she learned CPR from her previous job in a local factory.

“I tried to do the best I could,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right or not. I was so scared. I didn’t want to be a widow.”

North Central EMS arrived on the scene and provided advanced life support including defibrillation to shock the heart and medication to help stabilize Marvin for transport. Marvin was taken to his local hospital but because of the severity of his situation they were unable to treat him. He was then going to be sent to a Cleveland-based hospital via medical helicopter.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to go to Cleveland,” Marvin said. “I can’t understand why they were going to send me there. My wife knew I would want to be here where my family and friends were. I wanted them to be able to come visit me in the hospital.”

Because of unfavorable weather conditions, the medical helicopter was unable to take off and Marvin was brought to Firelands Regional Medical Center via North Central EMS (NCEMS). At this point, timely travel by NCEMS and a quick response at the receiving hospital were critically important to Marvin’s survival and ability to recover. National experts in cardiac care continually emphasize “Time is Muscle,” indicating that this quick response is necessary to prevent permanent damage to the patient’s heart muscle.

Marvin was taken to the cardiac catheterization lab at Firelands Regional Medical Center where Scott Sheldon, DO, interventional cardiologist with North Ohio Heart, and the heart team performed a heart cath within minutes of arrival that showed Marvin’s arteries were so blocked that he needed open heart surgery. Dr. Sheldon developed a plan of care and Marvin was sent to the cardiac care unit where his plan of care continued until he was stable enough to have open heart bypass surgery.

According to Anthony DeRiso, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon with Lakeside Heart and Lung, the care team, which included cardiology, cardiac surgery, neurology, pulmonology, nephrology, perfusionists, laboratory and radiology technologists, delivered comprehensive care, including a cooling protocol, to support Marvin’s vital functions and allow the body to rest and stabilize to be strong enough to withstand the needed quadruple bypass surgery. After the long period of CPR that had been needed to save Marvin’s life at the time of heart attack, a cooling protocol is the component of care which allows the brain to slow down and heal.

Dr. DeRiso performs open heart surgeries

“This procedure is an especially important patient safety intervention in cases such as Marvin’s,” Dr. DeRiso said. “It has been shown to improve outcomes for patients by protecting and restoring brain function after CPR. In Marvin’s case, the cooling protocol worked.”

“We all kept a close eye on him,” Dr. DeRiso said of Marvin.

Marvin’s heart was soon stable and though still in critical condition, he was strong enough for open heart bypass surgery. Once he was in the operating room and anesthesia was administered, the situation changed.

“This is not uncommon. Once a patient goes to sleep, it’s hard on the heart. When we start to put the medical lines in to stimulate the heart it can go into an abnormal rhythm. We know this is high risk, but if it will give the person a chance to live, we are going to do it.”

During the open heart bypass surgery, Marvin’s heart stopped and the heart team switched into emergency mode. Members of the heart team immediately began CPR and between compressions, Dr. DeRiso began to open Marvin’s chest for surgery.

“We finally got Marvin opened, our surgical assistant was manually squeezing the heart while I hooked up Marvin to the bypass machine that would continue to pump blood and oxygen to the body during the procedure,” said Dr. DeRiso.

The open heart bypass surgery went extremely well and to date, Marvin has not had any adverse effects from his surgery.

“I feel like a different person,” he said. “I used to have some shortness of breath whenever I’d mow the grass, but had an inhaler for that. I don’t have that shortness of breath anymore.”

Marvin is looking forward to retiring soon and spending time going camping or riding his Harley Davidson with Judy and their beloved dog, Abby. The heart team feels Judy is the true hero in the efforts to save Marvin’s life saying, “She knew what steps to take to save the person that means so much to her. For us (the team), we did the work that we do to make sure these two have more time together.”

Dexter Alexander, surgical assistant and cardiothoracic service area coordinator, said Marvin’s situation provided a bond for him and the Brenzos. While Marvin was in the hospital, Dexter, who is an artist in his off hours, drew a picture of Abby on a pillow that all heart patients are given. Patients use the pillows to support their chest incision as they cough or move around during the early days of the healing process.

“I noticed that every picture they had shown us had his dog in them and Marvin spoke of his dog quite often,” Dexter said. “This inspired me to personalize his heart pillow with something dear to him to help encourage him through the healing process.”

Marvin and Judy said they were both extremely happy with the care Marvin received while at Firelands Regional Medical Center.

“These were the nicest people I’ve ever met,” said Marvin of his care team. “The people were fantastic, the doctors were excellent – I tell everyone, ‘if you’ve got a problem, go to Firelands’.”

Learn more about open heart surgery at Firelands Regional Medical Center today.