Rick: “I couldn’t have been treated more warmly.”
In 2001, Rick Halpert was a healthy and active Kalamazoo attorney in his mid-50s, when a routine physical revealed something unusual: a major blood vessel in his chest was enlarged. Halpert had the images sent to a physician he knew at Case Western Reserve. The doctor called him back; he needed surgery, and fast. Looking back, Halpert remembers asking, “I assume you’ll have me come down to the Cleveland Clinic?” But the doctor said, “No, the best place is U-M.”
And, indeed, the world-class, state-of-the-art care Halpert needed was right in his own back yard. A very short time later, Halpert and his wife, Mary, were in Ann Arbor, sitting opposite G. Michael Deeb, M.D. – a professor in the Department of Surgery, the director of the Multidisciplinary Aortic Clinic, and a specialist in aortic valve disease, aortic aneurysms and dissections, Marfan syndrome, valvular disease and adult cardiac surgery.
Deeb’s terrifying diagnosis – an aortic aneurysm. He answered the couple’s many questions. Recalls Halpert, “I was surprised that a man of his reputation would take so much time, one-on-one, explaining the surgery and exploring my options. He was also extremely kind. I felt like I was in really good hands.”
Halpert says that he was enormously impressed not only with the skill of his surgeons, but with the care he received from virtually everyone he met during his hospital stay at U-M. The nurses and the young doctors-in-training who came to his room showed extraordinary sensitivity and kindness. “You hear about hospitals being cold places,” he says, “but I couldn’t have been treated more warmly at a family dinner.”
Halpert healed beautifully and returned to his busy life representing burn survivors in court.
But the story doesn't end here. Four years later, while flossing his teeth, Halpert cut his gums. Soon, he began to run a fever. His leg went numb, then his arm. Today, he credits the fine physicians at the Bronson Hospital ER in Kalamazoo for figuring out what was wrong; the tiny wound in his mouth had become a gateway for bacteria to enter his bloodstream, causing an infection that had spread to the valve and vessel at the top of his heart. “The doctors at Bronson were wonderful,” he says. “They said, ‘For what you have, you need to be at U-M.’”
Deeb and his team went to work but by now the aortic valve endocarditis was raging. Even a PICC line, pouring antibiotics directly on the infection, didn’t slow it down. His blood began forming clots that could kill him at any minute. The only option appeared to be surgery to replace the infected tissue, but scar tissue from the previous operation made that choice risky. One night, Deeb – who had by now become a friend – brought dinner to Halpert’s hospital room. Says Halpert, “I remember he said, ‘Rick, I think we’re going to have to go back in.’ I said, Michael, am I gonna die?’ He said, ‘No, you’re not gonna die, Rick.’ And I never worried again. I had that level of faith.”
It was faith well placed; the surgery went smoothly and Halpert was soon back at work.
At the urging of Dr. Kim Eagle, director of the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center, and Halpert’s U-M cardiologist, Halpert began working closely with Doug Wunderly, M.D. – a Kalamazoo cardiologist – for his ongoing care. Earlier this spring, Halpert was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and successfully treated at his local hospital. “My doctor and Dr. Eagle stayed in touch so that I could continue my care locally,” Halpert says. “It was wonderful – both these professionals cooperating for my benefit.”
Today, Halpert is healthy. He’s lost 30 pounds. “I owe my life to the U-M – twice!” he says