November 24, 2022
Author: Sherry Farney
Joe Serra is not ready to slow down. He loves going to work, spending time with those who work alongside him, and seeing new and long-time customers. He is a second-generation automotive dealership owner, following in his father Al’s footsteps. His family’s love of the business came naturally.
As he approached middle age, he discovered he had something else in common with his father: genetic heart disease that would force him to take unwanted downtime on two occasions, nine years apart.
“In 2013, when I was 54, I had a heart attack and received four stents,” said Serra. “Because of that experience, I remember how I felt at the time. I started experiencing similar pain on my right side over the course of a few months earlier this year. I decided to back off my workouts and some other normal activities but that didn’t help. I knew I had better get with my cardiologist.”
On July 1, 2022, Serra, now 62, had another 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-surgery testing to look at overall heart function and assess conduits that could adequately be used for bypass followed by an appointment 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 he would need a quintuple bypass, which is five arteries in the heart,” said Sanjay Batra, MD, a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon and the director of surgical structural heart at McLaren Flint. “I realize this is a lot for patients and their loved ones to take in. It is important to explain the procedure and the recovery expectations truthfully and answer any questions they may have, but at the same time alleviate as much of their fears as I can.”
Between his heart catheterization and appointment with Dr. Batra, Serra admits he had more negative thoughts than positive ones about his future.
“I cannot overstate how my wife and I walked in to meet with Dr. Batra with many concerns, and how at ease we were by the end of the appointment,” said Serra. “He was very open and confident but not in an arrogant way.”
His surgery was scheduled for July 11.
Cardiac bypass surgery begins with taking blood vessels from another area of the patient’s body, often the leg. Once they are harvested, an incision called a sternotomy is made to open the chest and divide the breastbone in half to allow the surgeon to access the heart.
Next, the blood vessels are grafted onto the existing heart vessels one at a time. They are placed past the blockage to detour blood around it, thus bypassing the blocked vessel. Most of the time, this is all performed “on pump” using a cardiopulmonary bypass machine to temporarily do the work of the heart and lungs, allowing the surgeon to stop the heart and perform surgery without the constant movement of the heart beating.
When all the new vessels are attached, the bypass machine is removed so the heart once again beats on its own, the breastbone is wired back together, and the chest is closed.
After 12 weeks of recovery that included outpatient cardiac rehabilitation and strict restrictions on not lifting over five pounds, Serra had his last checkup with the cardiothoracic team and is back to normal activities including working out with friends.
“I would encourage others who are aware they have heart disease in their family to be as proactive about it as they can and be sure and include their children in the process no matter their age,” said Serra. “I would also like to thank every single person involved in my care, no matter their role. I could not do what they do.
“Health care is hard work, and I was so impressed. They say in business you are only as good as your weakest link, and I did not encounter any weak links.”