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Wellness visit – at wife’s urging - makes heart-saving difference for NJ man

jdefeo_athomeJoe DeFeo at HomeJoe DeFeo, of Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, 67, fit, athletic, and eats well had been experiencing headaches, a stiff neck, “cotton mouth”, light headedness and blurry vision.

His wife Eileen DeFeo, an AtlantiCare employee, scheduled Joe for a primary care visit with Brian Timms, DO, AtlantiCare Physician Group Primary Care, in part because the Engaged health insurance plan she chose through AtlantiCare gives financial incentives to staff who schedule themselves and a covered spouse for a primary care visit. She also knew her husband’s symptoms could be a sign of a serious health issue. Joe hadn’t been to a physician for a well visit in two years.

Timms heard a heart murmur. “Joe said he had long known about the murmur but thought it wasn’t dangerous,” said Timms. 

Timms ordered an echocardiogram, which Joe had at the Heart Institute, ARMC Mainland Campus. Brittany Canonico, echocardiogram technician, and Chad Bousanti, technical director, ARMC’s Echocardiography Lab, performed the study. Haitham Dib, MD, medical director, Cardiovascular Clinical Integration, AtlantiCare, confirmed Joe’s aortic valve was heavily calcified and barely opened, and that he had two leaflets in his aortic valve instead of three. “At that point Joe should not have lifted even a gallon of milk until the valve was replaced,” said Dib.

Jeffrey VanHook, DO, of ARMC’s Cardiac Catheterization and Rhythm Center and Dib’s partner at Atlantic Cardiology Group, Galloway, performed a cardiac catheterization at ARMC that confirmed Joe had aortic valve stenosis.

James Dralle, MD, division director, Department of Surgery, Division of Cardiovascular Surgery, ARMC, explained he needed to replace Joe’s aortic valve.

“Dr. Dralle spent an hour and a half with us – making sure we both understood why I needed the procedure, what it entailed and what I’d need to do after the surgery,” said Joe DeFeo.

Dralle and his team performed the open heart surgery. It was one of the worst valves I’ve seen in my more than 23 year career,” said Dralle “This would most certainly have caused a catastrophic event soon if left untreated.”

A case manager from Timms’ office coordinated Joe’s post-hospital care before he left the hospital and continues to do so.

“They saved my life,” said Joe, of Timms, Dib, VanHook and Dralle and AtlantiCare staff, adding, “My wife did, too. If it weren’t for her, I probably would have ignored the symptoms.”

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