It was the summer of 2015 in which my family and I received the most disturbing diagnosis regarding my son Justin Brewer’s health. Like any normal 15-year-old, Justin was an active, vibrant teenager who enjoyed played basketball, running track and was on his way to pursuing the Eagle Scout award for the Boy Scouts. For several years, Justin’s pediatrician noted that his blood pressure tended to run higher than most kids of his age. Justin had no symptoms and was able to participate in strenuous athletic events without any problems. On one visit to his pediatrician, his father explained to him about his diagnosis of heart failure that had no known cause. The added information spurred his pediatrician to order an echocardiogram, EKG and a referral to the Texas Children’s Pediatric Cardiology Center.
We met Dr. Silvanna Molossi who reviewed the diagnostic tests and gave us the diagnosis that Justin’s right coronary artery branched from the location where the left coronary artery branches. We were bewildered, worried and completely devasted in knowing that this congenital abnormality could possibly lead to severe consequences including sudden cardiac death. Dr. Molossi was exceptional in spending the time to educate us on this pathology, the possible risks involved with continued high level physical activity participation and the treatment options available that include surgery. Dr. Molossi explained to us that the anatomical course of Justin’s right coronary artery not only branched from the opposite region of the largest blood vessel that leaves the heart, but that this vessel that supplies blood to his heart coursed within another blood vessel and exited between two larger vessels that could compress it during strenuous physical activity. The dilemma, as explained by Dr. Molossi, is that for right coronary artery anomalies, the correct decision to do surgery versus careful observation and restriction of certain physical activities is not as clear.
After careful review and consideration of the information provided, discussions at length with Justin and reading as much information as we could from medical journals, we elected to have Justin undergo surgery to unroof his coronary artery, which would provide pressure relief on the right coronary artery and reduce the possibility of a sudden cardiac death. Dr. Molossi was clear with us that the data on the outcomes of these surgeries was scant, but from the data that was available, her previous experiences with these surgeries and the extensive tortuous course of his right coronary artery, our decision to have Justin undergo surgery was a sound one.
In December of 2015, Justin received open heart surgery under the expert care of Dr. Carlos Mery. He unroofed his right coronary artery during the procedure. My wife and I along with numerous extended family and friends sat in the waiting room as we received timely reports from the nurse about each stage of the procedure. We were relieved that after several hours of surgery that the surgery was a success, and that Justin will be spending the next five days in the ICU. We often took turns spending the night at the hospital over those five days watching him get stronger and being able to eventually get up and start walking after a couple of days. Watching him resiliently progress back to standing, walking and being able to do basic activities like eating, sitting and basic hygiene was astonishing.
Justin’s surgical precautions required him to refrain from any strenuous physical activities for three months that followed but he was able to return to school. Justin had several follow-up appointments with Dr. Molossi that included echocardiograms, EKGs and exercise stress-tests in which he did well, allowing him to return back to his previous activities slowly. It took Justin about nine months to a year of progressive conditioning to return to his recreational activities such as running, basketball and weightlifting. I am ecstatic to say he has no symptoms, and he is a happy, thriving junior at Prairie View AM University majoring in kinesiology and minoring in biology with the goal to become a physician assistant. Our family often reflects on this experience as a time that we grew together as a family, faced fear squarely but moved forward with faith, education and support from a marvelous medical team and amazing comfort provided from friends and family members.