• 2011 Stories
    Destination Yale-New Haven

    Patients and families seek out the best, most advanced healthcare anywhere when they or their loved one need more care than most hospitals can provide. Sometimes they travel great distances; sometimes they find help in their own back yard. Many find the care they need at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

    Patients are not the only people who want to enter the doors at 20 York Street in New Haven. Physicians, residents, nurses and others employees are motivated to find their way to Yale-New Haven. Those doors open to the community as well, with support and opportunities that an organization such as YNHH can provide.

    Half a million people come to YNHH each year. Each has a story to tell. Here are the stories of six people whose journey crossed paths with Yale-New Haven.

    Frank Coterone
    Frank Coterone
    Darci Figlia
    Darci Figlia
    Abbas Syed
    Abbas Syed
    Steffani Rivas
    Steffani Rivas
    Sandy Soukup
    Sandy Soukup
    Trinidad-Matos Family
    Trinidad-Matos Family
  • Frank Coteron

    After 46-year-old Frank Coteron of Bridgeport suffered a massive heart attack last summer, his chances of survival were less than two percent.

    The damage to his heart was so extensive that his kidneys, liver and lungs had begun to shut down. Two area hospitals rejected the request for transfer from his local hospital. Frank had even received the last rites. Then his fiancée, Dana Dziedzinski, was informed that Yale-New Haven Hospital would accept him.

    At Yale-New Haven, cardiothoracic surgeon Abeel Mangi, MD, performed emergency coronary bypass surgery to replace Frank’s mitral valve. Frank was supported on a special heart and lung machine called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), for several days, while his heart and lungs recovered.

    "Even if a patient has been quoted as having a less than two percent chance of survival, at the end of the day, that patient is someone’s father or mother, husband or wife, son or daughter, and that’s a risk we’re prepared to take," said Dr. Mangi. “To us, to save the life of even one person makes the extraordinary efforts of an entire team of people worthwhile.”

    "Yale-New Haven Hospital gave me back my life," said Frank, who has made a full recovery.

    Click here to view a video about Frank and two other patients who have survived heart failure.
  • Darci Figlia

    When Darci Figlia started pedaling her bicycle in the first annual Closer to Free Ride to benefit Smilow Cancer Hospital in September 2011, she had a powerful incentive to meet her 25-mile goal.

    A little more than two years earlier, she had been diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma. As Darci steered her bike alongside several hundred other riders, however, she maintained strength in knowing she was cancer-free.

    Darci, who lives in Oakville, CT, had not been too alarmed at first when her husband Paul pointed out a suspicious-looking mole on her back. After her dermatologist examined it, though, he ordered a biopsy.

    “About a week later, I was at Yale-New Haven Hospital meeting with a surgeon, Dr. Stephan Ariyan," she recalled. Under the supervision of Dr. Ariyan and an oncologist at Smilow, Harriet M. Kluger, MD, Figlia underwent two surgeries – one to remove the malignant mole, a second to excise lymph nodes to which the cancer had spread.

    Her doctors also recommended chemotherapy treatment using what was then an experimental (and now FDA-approved) drug called ipilimumab. Determined yet realistic about beating her cancer, Darci agreed, telling Dr. Kluger, “If I’m not going to make it, I might as well help somebody else out in the future.”

    Along with the support of her family – including two beloved rescue dogs, Tara and Bo – and her chemo nurse, Jan Shanley, RN, Figlia battled through months of chemo and CT scans, until Dr. Kluger finally said her treatment was complete.

    Darci’s reaction? “I’m free!”

    Remaining healthy and thankful to YNHH, Darci will be present at this year’s Closer to Free Ride. “My attitude is that we only have a short life to live, and I’m going to make the best of it.” Ride on!

  • Abbas Syed

    Abbas Syed was only a few hours old when he was diagnosed with a rare, inherited, and often fatal, metabolic disorder. A liver transplant could have saved his life – but the chance of an immediate liver transplant for a newborn is almost non-existent.

    Abbas' condition, called urea cycle defect, occurs when missing enzymes cause the accumulation of toxic products, especially ammonia, in the blood. High blood ammonia levels cause major damage to the newborn’s brain. Abbas was in trouble.

    But Abbas was born at the right time in the right place. The Yale-New Haven Transplantation Center is one of a select few centers in the United States able to perform the life-saving operation that Abbas needed: hepatocyte transplant. In this procedure, frozen liver cells from a healthy liver are transplanted into the liver of a patient with metabolic defects.

    A hepatocyte transplant could keep Abbas alive until a donor liver became available. On December 23, 2010, Sukru Emre, MD, director of the Yale-New Haven Transplantation Center, performed the rare liver cell transplant to bolster Abbas’ liver, temporarily control his blood ammonia level and prevent development of brain injury and related neurological problems. Abbas was the first newborn in the country to undergo the procedure.

    When Abbas was eight months old, his mother, Veena Chohan, and her family were celebrating Eid al-Fitr – a joyous Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. “I had a feeling that something good was going to happen that day,” said Chohan. It did. She received a call from Yale-New Haven Hospital, telling her that a donor liver was available for her son.

    On August 31, 2011, during the festival of fast-breaking, Dr. Emre performed Abbas’ liver transplant.

    Today, Abbas is a healthy and active toddler, cured of liver disease.

    A Transplant Story - Abbas Syed
  • Steffani Rivas

    While playing with five-month-old daughter, Steffani, Ericka Rivas was alarmed when she noticed a spot in her right eye. Steffani’s twin sister, Ericka, had no such spot.

    Over the next couple of weeks, the spot grew bigger. Her pediatrician recommended that Steffani be seen by Miguel Materin, MD, an ocular oncologist at Yale-New Haven. Steffani was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer that develops in the retina of the eye and often affects young children.

    Dr. Materin offered the family two options: remove the eye or undergo a new treatment called intra-arterial chemotherapy. The family opted for the new treatment.

    Intra-arterial chemotherapy is a minimally invasive technique that involves threading a microcatheter from an artery in the child's thigh through the body then into the brain and ophthalmic artery – a process that would be challenging in an adult and requires an especially experienced, steady hand in small children. Once in place, a chemotherapy drug is injected directly to the tumor for about 30 minutes.

    The steady hands at work in this treatment belonged to Jeremy Asnes, MD, a pediatric interventional cardiologist, who provided the femoral access, and Ketan Bulsara, MD, a neurovascular surgeon who guided the microcatheter to the opthalmic artery using the world’s best diagnostic imaging and surgical technology available. Yale-New Haven’s 3 Tesla MRI neuro suite provides intra-operative MR imaging and biplane x-ray angiography that offer high-quality MR images before, during and after a neurosurgical procedure – without ever moving the patient.

    The first treatment shrunk the tumor in Steffani’s eye by 80 percent. She has had three treatments so far and continues to respond well.

    “To choreograph a novel treatment like this requires incredible collaboration between disciplines, highly experienced specialists and the advanced technology we’re lucky to have at Smilow Cancer Hospital,” said Dr. Materin.

  • Sandy Soukup

    Sandy Soukup’s outlook on life has brightened, literally and figuratively, since she agreed to become one of the first glaucoma patients in the country to have a tiny – but highly engineered – piece of gold surgically implanted in her eye to relieve pressure.

    The Yale Eye Center is the only facility in New England – and one of the few hospitals worldwide – approved for this novel treatment.

    Sandy’s delicate outpatient operation was performed by Nils Loewen, MD, PhD, who is among a handful of ophthalmic surgeons trained in the procedure. Sandy has a history of glaucoma, an incurable disease in which pressure from a build-up of fluid inside the eye damages the optic nerve, blurring vision and potentially leading to blindness.

    “Dr. Loewen had implanted a classical tube shunt in my right eye in a long and challenging surgery due to scar tissue. He warned me that my left eye was in trouble, too,” said the 76-year-old Danbury resident. “When I went back for a checkup, my left eye had developed severe glaucoma and he recommended this newer, easier surgery.”

    During the 10-minute procedure, Dr. Loewen made a small incision and carefully implanted what’s called a Solx Gold Shunt, a highly purified, 24-karat gold device about the thickness of an eyelash that has a tiny drainage space in its center. Engineering on a microscopical scale like this has only been possible due to advances in nano-technology.

    “It increases fluid drainage on the inside of the eye,” Dr. Loewen explained. The shunt is attached to the inside of the eye wall, so the patient can’t feel it, and being gold it should last indefinitely.

    “The pressure dropped incredibly overnight and has been stable for almost a year,” reported Sandy, whose recovery consisted of wearing an eye patch for a couple of days. “The sight in my left eye is now so great, I don’t have to wear glasses anymore to watch TV.

    “I’m so happy I decided to go for the gold,” she said.

  • Trinidad-Matos Family

    When Eliezer Trinidad and Evelyn Matos moved with their three children into a new home in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood two summers ago, theirs were not the only lives that were enriched.

    “We had lived for nine years in the Church Street South apartments, but my dream was to have our own house,” said Evelyn. Her dream came true when the family’s application to purchase a house built by Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven was accepted.

    Their house, at 15 Wilson Street, was the first of several Habitat homes sponsored by Yale-New Haven Hospital and its medical staff. Over the course of six months, nearly 175 YNHH employees and physicians volunteered to work alongside Trinidad and Matos to build the house, under the supervision of a Habitat construction manager. “My wife and I did a little bit of everything,” said Eliezer, recalling numerous weekends spent hammering, sawing, digging and painting.

    Michael Bennick, MD, a gastroenterologist and associate chief of medicine at YNHH, and his colleague, Suzanne Lagarde, MD – both longtime Habitat volunteers – were instrumental in the collaboration between the hospital and the medical staff in their first Habitat build in 2008.

    “It is a marvelous experience for all involved,” said Dr. Bennick, “including the families, of course, but also the volunteers, who so appreciate the opportunity to be good neighbors.”

    Yale-New Haven’s fourth and fifth Habitat homes will be completed in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood in 2012. “This is an important way in which Yale-New Haven Hospital and physicians can truly reveal the depth of our commitment to the health of the community,” said Dr. Bennick. “Even as we become a destination hospital, we are committed to our neighborhood.”