Risa Van Der Aue: A special place in her heart
At the age of 29, Risa Van Der Aue had everything to live for. She was a mother, a wife, an attorney, and had another baby on the way. The last thing she expected was a heart problem.
Risa was 23 weeks pregnant with her second child when she became ill. She thought she had the flu and went to her local hospital. Her symptoms turned out to be the result of an atrial myxoma — a rare heart tumor.
“Before I actually had the chance to make a decision about how to treat the tumor, I went into heart failure,” Risa says. She had fallen unconscious.
The hospital transferred her that night to the University of Michigan Health System, calling in the U-M’s Survival Flight helicopter to get her there as quickly as possible. Early the next morning, Dr. G. Michael Deeb, director of the U-M Multidisciplinary Aortic Valve Clinic, removed the tumor.
When Risa finally woke up from an induced coma six weeks later, she found out that her body had been through a lot.
“Just about everything U-M has to offer, I received,” she says. She was placed on the ECMO life support system for a short time so that Dr. Francis Pagani could implant two heart-assisting devices, including an LVAD (left ventricular assist device), to enable her body to rest and recuperate. The device that helped her heart’s right ventricle pump blood to her lungs was in for 10 days before Dr. Pagani was able to remove it.
Risa’s baby had not survived the trauma, but Risa still had her life. And her heart health began to improve. She was placed on the heart transplant waiting list. She went home on Christmas Day, 2003, with the LVAD still implanted -- and hope for the future.
Dr. Pagani removed the LVAD just two months later, and gave Risa a clean bill of health. No organ transplant was necessary.
Risa recalls, “Dr. Pagani said, ‘Go live your life.’ And that’s what I’m doing. I live my life, and my four-year-old daughter has a mother because of U of M, and I am convinced of that,” Risa says.
“U of M has a special place in my heart,” Risa says. “Every single person at U-M treated my family and me with the utmost respect and dignity,” says Risa. “I never once felt helpless.”