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Fateful Decision Proves Lifesaving for Monroe Man

LVH–Pocono ER visit, testing finds 9/11 survivor had heart valve issue, cancer

When John Gannon passed out after being out boating on a lake in the Poconos on July 4, the hospital he was taken to kept him overnight for observation, but doctors there ultimately chalked it up to dehydration.

He had no reason to doubt the diagnosis at the time.

When it happened the next day at his Pocono Pines home in Tobyhanna Township, Monroe County, after he came home from dinner with his family, he wasn’t so sure. “The exact same feeling came over me and I collapsed in front of my family,” Gannon recalls. During the discussion with the EMS crew about which hospital to go to, he learned there would be a wait at the hospital he went to the previous day, and he was not having it. “I said ‘What about Lehigh Valley Pocono?’ They [EMS] contacted them and that’s where we went,” Gannon says.

LVH–Pocono and LVH–Cedar Crest shine

At Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Pocono, Gannon was stabilized. The next day, an echocardiogram showed severe narrowing in his aortic valve as the reason for Gannon’s syncope or loss of consciousness. “The doctors said I had a valve that needed to be replaced,” Gannon says.

Given the options of open-heart surgery or a minimally invasive transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), Gannon was leaning toward TAVR. He was transferred to LVH–Cedar Crest for urgent consultation with Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute’s Structural Heart Team regarding the TAVR procedure.

Did you know?

TAVR procedures are used more than surgical valve replacement in the U.S.

In preparation for a TAVR procedure a computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest is commonly done to evaluate the suitability of this minimally invasive approach. Unfortunately, the CT scan showed a spot on his lung, something later determined through biopsy to be cancer.

Typically, obtaining the various preoperative tests for a TAVR may take months to coordinate on an elective outpatient basis. However, Heart and Vascular Institute colleagues got it accomplished in less than 10 days, due to Gannon’s critically failing heart valve that caused his episodes of loss of consciousness and the discovery of his lung cancer.

“It was a remarkable save on multiple levels. John is with us and thriving because of the great work of so many colleagues at Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute and Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute. We’re proud to be part of his success.” – Shailendra Singh, MD, Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute

Gannon, 78, went home for about a week to get things in order. He stayed with his son to finish preprocedure testing, and then returned to LVH–Cedar Crest for the TAVR procedure with interventional cardiologist Shailendra Singh, MD, of Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute.

“We expedited the process to fix John’s valve as soon as possible to avoid a catastrophic outcome,” Dr. Singh says. “The unpredictability of critical aortic stenosis and syncope (fainting) can be extremely dangerous. I also knew that I had to get him through this safely to get him scheduled for his lung surgery to avoid further spread of his cancer.”

In a TAVR, your doctor places an expandable valve into your heart via a catheter (tiny, hollow tube). The catheter is inserted into an artery through your groin to replace the diseased aortic valve. At Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute, TAVR is a more common procedure for severe aortic stenosis than surgical aortic valve replacement (SAVR), which requires an incision in your chest to access the heart to replace the valve. Less invasive procedures like TAVR commonly result in a faster recovery time, with less pain. 

“The replacement of my heart valve without open-heart surgery was important. In the back of my mind was the spot on my lung. I didn’t want to have my chest cracked open and then have surgery again for my lung. Dr. Singh offered the less invasive valve replacement and it made sense from a health standpoint,” Gannon says.

Not only did Gannon’s TAVR procedure go perfectly, he recovered within a few hours and could already feel the difference. He did so well he was discharged from the hospital the next afternoon. Cardiothoracic surgeon Laszlo Fuzesi, MD, removed the cancerous spot from Gannon’s lung at LVH–Pocono in October and Gannon got the good news from doctors that the surgery was successful and the cancer hadn’t spread to other areas of his body.

Gannon, a widower with two sons and five grandchildren, says he took a clinical approach to the health issues he faced. “It was like it was happening to someone else,” he says. “I took the big view and didn’t get lost in the weeds.” Gannon says his job training and experience taught him to identify a problem and come up with and test solutions. “I took it in stride,” he says.

A survivor stays calm

Taking his health scares in stride may have been fashioned in part from earlier life experiences. A retired manager at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, he worked at the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

He was there in 1993 when a terrorist bomb went off in the basement parking garage. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was on the 52nd floor of the North Tower, when it was hit by a hijacked passenger jet. He says he knew the building, stayed calm and was able to make it to ground level. He was in the North Tower lobby when the South Tower collapsed. “The noise outside was incredible,” he recalls.

Not long after that, he said a routine work physical showed he had an enlarged heart and a heart valve that was leaking. The plan at the time, he says, was to continue to monitor his heart going forward. He had no symptoms of heart trouble, not until last July.

Gannon says he appreciated the skill and caring of LVHN doctors and staff. “Every one of those people were just incredible,” he says.

“It was a remarkable save on multiple levels,” says Dr. Singh. “John is with us and thriving because of the great work of so many colleagues at Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute and Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute. We’re proud to be part of his success. We have a great interdisciplinary team with excellent communication that got his cancer treated quickly and didn’t give it a chance to spread.”


An illustration of a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR)

Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement

If you have a diseased aortic valve, you may qualify for this minimally invasive approach to replace the valve without a large incision.

Learn more

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