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Marla Levy

"Miracle Patient" Receives the Gift Of Life

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ADCT Photo Marla Levy With Dr MerrickMy name is Marla Levy and I owe my life to Dr. Scot Merrick, Chief of Adult Cardiothoracic Surgery at UCSF.

My story begins in Southern California when I was 21 and diagnosed with a congenital heart defect: supravalvular aortic stenosis or SVAS.

SVAS develops before birth and causes narrowing of the aorta, the large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

At age 27, I had my first open heart surgery. My aorta was replaced with a human valve, and when doctors couldn’t get my heart to start after the procedure, I received an emergency right coronary bypass. What should have been a three hour surgery turned into an eight hour ordeal, but my heart did eventually start beating.

Fourteen years later, when I was living in the Bay Area and being treated at UCSF, a routine echocardiogram showed that my valve replacement was deteriorating at an alarming rate. I was scheduled for surgery almost immediately to replace the human valve with a mechanical valve. The surgery went well, but it was clear to my surgeon that I needed additional bypass surgery due to arteriosclerosis, which is a hardening and narrowing of the arteries.

At this point, Dr. Merrick was strongly recommended to me. He specializes in bypass surgery, valve repairs and replacements, surgery for congenital heart disease, removing tumors of the heart, and aneurysm repair. I learned the Division of Adult Cardiothoracic Surgery at UCSF is a high-volume center that treats the most complex diseases of the heart and lungs. The Division’s reputation for clinical excellence and stellar outcomes is known both nationally and internationally. Dr. Merrick is touted as one of the best in his field and I credit him with saving my life.

Moving forward with Dr. Merrick and his team, I had triple bypass surgery just ten days after the most recent valve replacement. To perform the surgery, my heart was stopped and I was placed on a machine that does the work of the heart and lungs. When the bypass surgery was complete, they tried to take me off the heart and lung machine, but my heart did not resume beating. Dr. Merrick and his team tried for hours to get my heart started. With tears in her eyes, Dr. Merrick’s senior physician assistant, Anja, updated my family in the waiting room.

Dr. Merrick and his team made the choice to put me on ECMO (a machine that takes over the functioning of the heart) and brought me to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit in hopes that by giving my heart time to rest, they could get it to start at a later time. Six days and two attempts later, Dr. Merrick successfully took me off the ECMO machine and was able to get my heart beating on its own. I call this man my hero because he figured out a way to keep me alive and never gave up on me or my heart.

I am on the road to recovery, and now that I’m stronger, I have been making trips to the hospital to say thank you to my doctors and nurses at UCSF. On one of my visits, Dr. Merrick was paged so he could see my progress. Dr. Merrick naturally has a very serious demeanor, but when he saw me he lit up like he had seen a pot of gold. He called me his “miracle patient”— and I know he does not use the word miracle lightly.

Dr. Merrick gave me the gift of life, and I wanted to show him the living, breathing proof that what he and his team does matters and makes a huge difference for their patients and their families. I am beyond grateful for the care and fighting chance Dr. Merrick and his team gave me, and this gratitude abounds in my husband, children, family and friends.

The faculty, staff, and nurses at UCSF were phenomenal, a 10 out of 10. I owe everything to Dr. Merrick and the Division of Adult Cardiothoracic Surgery at UCSF. These expert physician-scientists have been pioneers in the treatment and research for heart conditions and in the development of innovative procedures. They strive to provide outstanding patient care while making significant advances in scientific knowledge through academic and clinical research. 

Tags: Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG)Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)Heart Valve DiseaseSupravalvular Aortic Stenosis
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