Legacy of past donors gives patient a second chance

When Patrick Himmelheber couldn’t catch his breath during his first recreational hockey game of the season, he thought he had let himself get out of shape over the summer.

“It was very weird to be so short of breath because I’m a pretty fit person and exercised regularly,” he recalls. “But every time I exerted myself, even to go up the stairs, I couldn’t breathe.”​

After an appointment with his family doctor, a CT scan revealed that Patrick had blood clots in both of his lungs. He was immediately sent to the Emergency Department, put on blood thinners and admitted overnight for observation.

Patrick was diagnosed with chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH), a serious and often deadly condition where scar tissue causes masses that get caught in the lung’s vessels and block the blood flow.

“Later on, my family doctor would tell me that I was lucky to be alive,” says Patrick. “The amount of clotting they found in my lungs would have been detrimental to anyone who hadn’t been as physically active as I was.”

Patrick would eventually need a complicated surgery with a high risk of mortality, called a pulmonary thromboendarterectomy (PEA). PEA is one of the most challenging procedures to teach and learn in cardiothoracic surgery, and it is only offered at a few specialized centres in the world.

Fortunately, UHN is one of these centres.

Patrick was prescribed blood thinners and scheduled for further follow-up in the fall. He went on with his life, enjoying the summer and spending time with his wife. But the day before his scheduled follow-up appointment, Patrick’s morning routine was interrupted by a sharp pain in his chest.

His wife rushed him to the Emergency Department. As a result of his earlier PE, necrosis – a side effect of CTEPH – was taking hold of his right lung and a very small part of his lung had died from the lack of blood flow in its arteries. The scar tissue from the necrosis was pushing on his chest, and he would need surgery to remove it.

Patrick met with world-renowned thoracic surgeon, Dr. Marc de Perrot, Surgical Director, Pulmonary Hypertension/CTEPH Program at UHN, and less than a month after his consultation, Patrick underwent an eight-hour surgery to separate and remove the scar tissue from his lungs’ arteries.

Left untreated, individuals with CTEPH can die within three to five years. Thanks to donor support, Dr. de Perrot operates a thriving research lab with the goal of improving health outcomes for people living with CTEPH.

Today Patrick has returned to normal life with his wife and daughter. Looking back, he realizes just how serious his condition was, and takes nothing for granted – including the generosity of donors who make care like he received possible.

Anyone can help achieve extraordinary things in health care, simply by planning ahead. For decades, gifts in wills to UHN have supported medical breakthroughs that have transformed health care here and around the globe. These gifts ensure a safety net of funding for UHN’s future needs – from attracting the brightest medical minds like Dr. de Perrot, to purchasing the latest state-of-the-art equipment and fuelling the next major discovery.

A gift in your will could be your legacy – making an impact on health care for generations to come.

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