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A shocking diagnosis

One patient’s journey from early heart failure to lifesaving, innovative procedure

Cory Welch
Cory Welch (Photo by Maricruz Kwon/UTHealth)

Cory Welch appreciates his second chance at life.

“I look at life differently now,” he says, “and I am reminded it is a tremendous gift.”

At age 41, Cory’s symptoms began July 4 when his legs and feet started swelling and he was short of breath. He knew something was wrong so he made an appointment with Mark Farnie, M.D., internal medicine specialist with UT Physicians, the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)

After an echocardiogram, Cory, a senior audio-visual specialist in conference operations at McGovern Medical School, was shaken to learn he was in congestive heart failure, with his heart functioning at less than 20 percent.

Within days of his diagnosis, he met with Viacheslav Bobovnikov, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon with UT Physicians, and the news was more alarming. “All of the main arteries to my heart had 95 percent blockage and I was told I would die soon if I didn’t have bypass surgery.”

“When I saw the results of his studies,” Bobovnikov says, “I knew his condition was very serious and we couldn’t wait any longer. Cory is very young to be dealing with this life-threatening condition and our best solution was coronary artery bypass surgery with total arterial revascularization of the diseased arteries.”

Bobovnikov is one of a few cardiac surgeons in the U.S. who can perform this specialized surgery and he was trained in Israel by one of the pioneers of this surgical technique. “Studies prove that total arterial revascularization provides a more superior outcome for patients, compared with conventional bypass surgery,” he explains.

In patients like Cory, with multiple vessel coronary artery disease at a young age, total arterial revascularization is the best solution to restore the flow of blood to the heart, while providing longer lasting grafts, rather than using only the saphenous vein grafts. The total arterial revascularization means usage of both internal thoracic arteries and the radial artery as conduits.

There are many long-term benefits to these arterial grafts, such as their strength and ability to improve long-term survival and quality of life.

Frightening journey begins

After Cory’s diagnosis of heart failure, he learned his heart was enlarged because the heart muscle was working so hard, it became bigger.

The American Heart Association estimates nearly six million Americans have heart failure, a progressive condition in which the heart is unable to efficiently pump blood. Heart failure does not mean the heart has stopped working; it means the pumping power is weaker than normal.

Viacheslav Bobovnikov, M.D., and Cory Welch
Viacheslav Bobovnikov, M.D., and Cory Welch (Photo courtesy of Cory Welch)

The first night Cory came home from receiving the frightening news of his diagnosis, he did not feel good. “My chest felt like it was going to explode with horrible pain. I knew I needed to go to the hospital and the closest one was Memorial Hermann Pearland Hospital,” he says. Thankfully, Cory was proactive and paid attention to his symptoms.

Within hours, he was transferred to the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute -Texas Medical Center, where he had more tests, including a heart catheterization.

“Cory was an excellent candidate for total arterial revascularization,” Bobovnikov says. “He had faith and he was ready for the surgery because he knew there were no other options.”

The surgery was successful and Cory spent 11 days in the hospital. “My wife, Kayla, and I were both emotionally drained trying to process how quickly our world changed,” Cory says. “But we were committed to make sure our home life was as stable as possible for our two sons, age 10 and 12.”

Heart disease runs in Cory’s family and he knows that heart attacks are a silent killer. He encourages others to take care of themselves:

  • Eat healthy and exercise
  • Stay calm and avoid stress
  • Don’t let the world get you down

“I know I have been guilty of putting everyone else first and now I need to learn to put myself first and better manage stress,” Cory admits. “I think my body was falling apart for a while and I didn’t slow down long enough to recognize the symptoms.”

Cory Welch is a senior audio-visual specialist in conference operations at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth
Cory Welch is a senior audio-visual specialist in conference operations at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth (Photo by Maricruz Kwon/UTHealth)

Looking back, Cory thinks Hurricane Harvey may have triggered extreme stress. “We were stranded in our house for a week, like so many families, worrying about flood waters creeping closer to our house,” he remembers. “It took a year for the signs of stress to take a toll.”

Grateful in recovery

In recovery now, Cory feels much better than he did in the past. “I gain more strength every day and enjoy walking my neighborhood as part of my rehab,” he says.

Cory is where he is also grateful for the support he has received.

“So many people contributed to my life-saving gift — family, friends, doctors, nurses and co-workers,” he says. “I am fighting hard every day to get better not just for myself and my family, but for everyone who helped me during this journey of care and recovery. They all made an investment in me. Now I follow all of the advice I give to others about the importance of taking care of ourselves.”

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