Author: Sherry Farney
Joe Serra isn’t about to slow down. He enjoys going to work, spending time with those who work alongside him, and seeing new and old customers. He is a second-generation automotive dealership owner, following in his father Al’s footsteps. His family’s love of business came naturally.
As he approached middle age, he discovered that he had something else in common with his father: genetic heart disease this would force him to take unwanted leave on two occasions, nine years apart.
“In 2013, when I was 54, I had a heart attack and got four stents,” Serra said. “Because of that experience, I remember how I felt at the time. I started experiencing similar pain on my right side for a few months earlier this year. I decided to cut back on exercise and some other normal activities, but that didn’t help. I knew I had better contact my cardiologist.”
On July 1, 2022, Serra, now 62, underwent a heart catheterization and was told he had new blockages and would require open-heart surgery, also referred to as a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG). He would need pre-operative tests to look at the heart’s overall function and assess which channels could be adequately used for the bypass, followed by a meeting with a cardiothoracic surgeon to discuss his care plan. .
“I met with Mr. Serra and his wife on July 5 and had to let them know that he would need a quintuple bypass, which is five arteries in the heart,” said. Sanjay Batra, MD, a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon and director of structural heart surgery at McLaren Flint. “I understand that this is a lot for patients and their loved ones to take in. It is important to explain the procedure and recovery expectations honestly and answer any questions they may have, but at the same time ease their fears as much as I can.”
Between the heart catheterization and the meeting with Dr. Batra, Serra admits that he had more negative than positive thoughts about his future.
“I can’t overstate how nervous my wife and I went in to see Dr. Batra and how relaxed we were by the end of the appointment,” Serra said. “He was very open and confident, but not in an arrogant way.”
His surgery was scheduled for July 11.
Cardiac bypass surgery begins by taking blood vessels from another area of the patient’s body, often from the leg. Once they are collected, an incision called a sternotomy is made to open the chest and split the breastbone in half to allow the surgeon access to the heart.
The blood vessels are then grafted onto the existing heart vessels one by one. They are placed across the blockage to bypass the blood around it, thereby bypassing the blocked vessel. In most cases, all this is done “on the pump” using a cardiopulmonary bypass machine to temporarily perform the work of the heart and lungs, allowing the surgeon to stop the heart and perform the operation without the constant movement of the heartbeat.
When all the new vessels are attached, the bypass machine is removed, so the heart can beat on its own, the breastbone is reattached, and the chest is closed.
After 12 weeks of recovery that included outpatient cardiac rehabilitation and strict restrictions not to lift more than five kilograms, Serra had his final checkup with the cardiothoracic team and is back to normal activities, including working out with friends.
“I would encourage others who are aware that they have heart disease in their family to be as proactive about it as they can and be safe and involve their children in the process without taking given their age,” Serra said. “I would also like to thank every person involved in my care, whatever their role. I couldn’t do what they do.
“Health care is hard work and I was very impressed. They say in business you’re only as good as your weakest link, and I haven’t come across a weak link.”