Rare Complication Meets Its Match

Prestemon FamilyIn July 2018, five weeks after he underwent a procedure in Asheville to treat atrial fibrillation, Ed Prestemon and his wife Patty traveled to Richmond to visit their daughters.

While there, Ed began to feel extreme fatigue and chest discomfort. Patty, a retired nurse, knew she needed to get Ed to an emergency room. When she did, his condition deteriorated rapidly.

Ed began shaking and spitting up large amounts of blood. They learned that Ed had developed an atrial-esophageal fistula, a rare condition in which a passage forms between the atrium and the esophagus. Every time Ed’s heart beat, it pumped blood into his esophagus. He needed emergency surgery.

“We almost said our goodbyes right there, because they gave us a 15% chance that he’d make it through the surgery,” Patty told us. “And this was a healthy guy, you know. He hiked, he biked, he weightlifted.”

Ed was transferred to VCU Medical Center, where he was met by cardiothoracic surgeons Dr. Daniel Tang and Dr. Rachit Shah. Through nearly 14 hours of surgery over two days, the surgeons successfully repaired the holes in Ed’s atrium and esophagus, but not before he suffered several strokes.

What followed was an extensive hospital stay totaling 43 days as Ed moved from the ICU to a step-down unit to inpatient rehab. He then was released to outpatient rehabilitation at home and Sheltering Arms.

Seven months after the emergency surgeries that saved his life, Ed grinned as he recalled, “I actually sent the rehab therapists a photo of me kayaking while we were in Florida.”

To show their appreciation to the doctors, nurses and rehab therapists who saved Ed’s life and helped him get back on his feet, the Prestemons made a generous gift to support cardiothoracic research at VCU Health as well as its new joint venture with Sheltering Arms, the Sheltering Arms Institute.

“I was very unlucky to have the initial problem happen to me,” Ed said. “But I was even more lucky to have it happen when I was in Richmond, when I was five minutes from the ER…and when I was able to get to VCU Medical Center, where I could get the surgery I needed right away.”

Today, Ed has returned to his active lifestyle. And, “obviously, the most important thing is getting together with our family,” he said. “Last Thanksgiving was a really great get-together, and then we’re here this week for our granddaughter’s second birthday and our other daughter’s baby shower. Just being able to be here for those makes us very thankful.”

To learn more about making a gift, please contact Carrie Mills at (804) 828-0423 or carrie.r.mills@vcuhealth.org.

Above: Ed and Patty Prestemon with daughter Adrienne and granddaughter Parker. Photo by Eric Peters