He is known by some as that doctor who rides his bike to work. He is also known as a McLaren Family Medicine faculty member or as a primary care physician. As of January 2013, John Chahbazi, M.D., is also known as a patient, all due to a life changing visit to see a former medical resident.
His unexpected medical journey began in November of 2012 when Dr. Chahbazi decided to visit a former medical resident who had established a new practice in Arizona. This physician was especially excited about the heart conditions that were being discovered in patients through the echocardiograms he and a technician were doing.
“I flew to Arizona the first week of November and in addition to doing some recreational things outdoors, I helped him get life insurance, business insurance and some other things in place that I thought were important for him and his family to have moving forward,” states Dr. Chahbazi. “Near the end of my visit he said to me, ‘You’re the healthiest person I know. Let’s do an echocardiogram of your heart and you can see what a wonderful technician I have,’ so I agreed. Imagine both of our surprise when it indicated I had mitral valve prolapse and regurgitation, meaning a valve in my heart was letting blood leak backward into it. This is a developmental disease that starts in the teens and progresses over time, thus making me unaware that I had it. They also discovered I had an enlargement of my atrium causing an irregular heartbeat and elevated pulmonary artery pressure. I truly believe I went on this trip so I could help my friend, and he could help me.”
As a physician, Dr. Chahbazi knew right away what the findings indicated. If left untreated, over time, the condition results in congestive heart failure or death. Healthy in every other way, and being asymptomatic (symptom free), over the next month he told no one of his discovery while he contemplated what to do. In mid-December he attended McLaren’s employee holiday lunch and happened to sit by a nurse manager from the heart and vascular department along with his primary care physician and another colleague. A discussion began about a new minimally invasive mitral valve procedure that would be available at McLaren in 2013; he decided to open up about his condition. Hoping he would be a candidate for a less invasive surgery, he decided to do something. He set up an appointment with McLaren Flint cardio thoracic surgeon Joseph Arcidi, M.D. While he was not a candidate for the minimally invasive procedure, he still decided to move forward with open heart surgery, which was scheduled for January 28, 2013.
“This was the hardest decision of my life,” states Dr. Chahbazi. “I was asymptomatic and feeling like my life would never be the same if I had surgery, but as a physician I knew I needed the procedure sooner rather than later. I am confident I had the right surgeon and the right hospital, and I knew research shows the life expectancy for people who have the procedure I needed is the same as someone who has a normal heart, so I went for it.”
His open heart surgery included a valve replacement and the MAZE procedure to repair his irregular heartbeat and prevent future rhythm disturbances. Dr. Chahbazi spent five days in the Cardiac Care Unit (CCU), with his biggest issue being severe pain and nausea. He then spent five days on the hospital’s heart unit. During his stay he gained 40 pounds, a normal complication as the body retains fluids while it adjusts to all that has been done to it.
“As a physician I thought I knew what my patients were experiencing after heart surgery but I was wrong,” states Dr. Chahbazi. “I am amazed at how many people are involved in getting someone through such a procedure. It really does take a team effort, and I appreciate everyone and their roles so much more. There were things that I will never forget like the nurses who took time to talk to me at 2 a.m. when I was in pain and could not sleep, and the housekeeper who enthusiastically thanked me for choosing McLaren. I have a new perspective, and hope to be a better doctor and mentor having been through it. I feel privileged to have gone through the process and am proud that my hospital can offer such care.”
Dr. Chahbazi eased back into work only a couple of weeks after returning home and continues his road to recovery with standard restrictions on things like driving, activity and how he uses his arms due to his incision. As his life gradually returns to normal, odds are he will be ready to start riding his bicycle to work again, long before Mother Nature is ready to cooperate.