What happens when you’ve had four major heart surgeries by age 26, yet your heart continues to worsen and your doctor tells you that you now need a heart transplant? If you’re Candice Tarter, you get a second opinion from Michigan Medicine.
“I had my first open-heart surgery at 16,” recalls Candice, now 30. “And then because of various complications over the years, I needed three more surgeries before age 27. It was devastating to have to go through all those, and then to be told I needed a transplant was just overwhelming. What I needed was a breakthrough.”
To compound matters emotionally, Candice had dreamed of taking her basketball career to the college level. Several Division I universities had been actively pursuing her, and three even offered her full scholarships. But because her failing heart left her on the sidelines, Candice missed out on three full rides.
Candice remembers, “It was such a painful time. But I didn’t want to give up.”
Despite the loss of her basketball scholarship, Candice went on to college and became a teacher.
To be told I needed a transplant was just overwhelming. What I needed was a breakthrough.
Unfortunately, her heart continued to worsen. She developed a very large pseudoaneurysm at the junction of the aorta and heart that would mean yet another major open-heart surgery. This meant Candice was forced to miss work for months and be in the hospital sometimes for weeks at a time. And after a series of fainting spells signaled she would need yet another surgery—this time, a recommended heart transplant—Candice knew it was time for a new medical team.
“I told my mom I was done with surgery. I’m sick of going. But my friends and family convinced me to give Michigan Medicine a try,” tells Candice.
So at age 27, Candice was referred to the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center.
Tests there revealed her aortic root had ruptured from her heart. The blood was flowing underneath her breastbone, with scar tissue the only thing keeping the blood from free rupture. She would need yet one more open-heart procedure. This time, it would be extremely complex.
“The patient’s former surgeons had tried everything and felt they had run out of options,” says Michigan Medicine cardiac surgeon Bo Yang, M.D.
But he and his team were confident they could treat Candice’s condition while avoiding a heart transplant.
“We created a new left ventricle outflow tract, a new aortic root and aortic valve, preserved the mechanical mitral valve and performed a bypass graft on her right coronary artery, which was completely closed,” says Yang. “The patient was discharged a few days after surgery without any complications. Today, she is doing very well and is living a normal life.”
“I felt so much better after my last surgery,” says Candice, who appreciates the partnership she developed with her Michigan Medicine care team.
The strong, determined 30-year-old woman now coaches basketball in between being a teacher at Bow Elementary/Middle School, where she encourages her fourth-grade students to be responsible for their own actions, education and life — lessons she herself has learned the hard way.
“I hold my students accountable to learn, to challenge themselves and to grow,” says Candice, who enjoys it when she sees her students’ eyes light up in the classroom.
Do you have a remarkable patient story? A moment of breakthrough or discovery? We’d love to hear about it!