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Paying it Forward

Dean Polik was in great physical condition — or so he thought. In July 2014, a damaged aortic valve triggered a heart attack. After placing two stents, heart specialists at the Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute (SHVI) recommended that Dean have his valve replaced before the end of the year.

There wasn’t much time to make some very important decisions. Dean learned that in the United States most people have open-heart surgery to repair or replace an aortic valve, even though there is also a minimally invasive procedure available called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). He knew he didn’t want open-heart surgery, because it would involve a lengthy recovery. Instead, he wanted the TAVR procedure, which was available at Swedish.

There was only one problem. His doctors at SHVI told him that at that time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only allowed hospitals to perform TAVR on high-risk patients — those who were extremely ill and might not survive open-heart surgery.

Unfortunately, Dean was too healthy – he did not qualify as high risk. The FDA would not allow Swedish — or any other U.S. hospital for that matter — to perform TAVR to replace his aortic valve.

Peter Demopulos, M.D., Dean’s cardiologist at SHVI, told him that hospitals in Germany didn’t have the same kind of restrictions as U.S. hospitals on using TAVR to replace aortic valves. He also said there were two world-renowned cardiologists in Frankfurt, Sameer Gafoor, M.D., and Horst Sievert, M.D., who specialized in TAVR. And so, Dean began his TAVR journey.

Navigating complex medical care – especially in another country – can be challenging. But thanks to Swedish, Dean’s medical journey was problem free. Even though he was not having the procedure done at Swedish, Dr. Demopulos’s nurse, Sandra West, treated him as if he was their most important patient. Everyone at Swedish went out of their way to ensure that all Dean and Gwenn had to worry about was getting on the plane.

It is this very personal and compassionate support from Swedish that spurred Dean and Gwenn to fund a nurse navigator for Swedish’s structural heart program, which is now led by Dr. Gafoor – the same cardiologist who performed Dean’s procedure in Germany.

Patients with structural heart disease often also have multiple other medical problems. They also require a lot of tests and care from many different specialists. Coordinating that care can be a full-time job for a patient and their family.

“I know that navigating these services can be complicated, confusing and stressful,” says Dean. “It can be overwhelming trying to gather information so you can make informed decisions, and it’s difficult to keep all of the appointments straight.”

Dean and Gwenn are extremely grateful for the people at Swedish who helped them when they needed it most. Swedish didn’t have an obligation to help — after all, Dean’s procedure was being performed at a German hospital. Instead, they had the desire and compassion to help.

The Poliks decided that they wanted to give to Swedish so all patients with structural heart disease would have someone helping them navigate their heart health care — just like Swedish had helped them. That is the essence of paying it forward. Taking inspiration from a personal experience and making it easier for others.

Because of Dean and Gwenn’s generous support — and caring supporters like you — patients with structural heart disease will have that help. They can count on someone who will coordinate their care before, during and after their procedures.

Together, supporters like Dean, Gwenn – and you – make extraordinary care possible at Swedish. To learn more about how your gift is making a difference in the lives of patients like Dean, contact Anna Manhas, philanthropy officer at Swedish Medical Center Foundation, at Anna.Manhas@swedish.org or 206-386-3348.