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In Good Hands - LaKeena Crawford

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Apr, 2019

Physicians: Kourosh Baghelai, MD

For much of her childhood, LaKeena Crawford of Benton Harbor endured back pain, bone pain, and severe headaches. LaKeena’s childhood symptoms puzzled doctors for years, before she was finally diagnosed with Marfan syndrome (MFS) at the age of 18. MFS, a rare genetic disorder that affects the body's connective tissue, can cause serious problems with eyes, bones and joints, and the heart and blood vessels. Unfortunately, there is no cure yet.

In the years after learning of her disorder, LaKeena moved to Minnesota while still facing health challenges. During those years, she even underwent multiple surgeries to preserve her eyesight by reattaching her retinas and repairing her lenses.

As someone living with Marfan syndrome, LaKeena was no stranger to treatments and chronic pain, but in her 30s, she began experiencing extreme weakness and lack of energy due to complications with a valve in her heart. As the symptoms worsened, it became clear that it was time for LaKeena to move back to Benton Harbor to be closer to her family.

After she returned home, LaKeena researched cardiologists in the area. Although she was nervous about the prospect of surgery and not overly familiar with, or confident in, Lakeland at first, she spoke to Kourosh Baghelai, MD.

“I got a good feeling about him as we talked, and I prayed about it afterward,” said LaKeena. “And Dr. Baghelai turned out to be the best.”

LaKeena came under the care of Dr. Baghelai and Troy Teagardin, PA at a critical moment in her life.

“At that time, I honestly thought I was about to die,” said LaKeena. “So many doctors had said that my life expectancy was not good. But Dr. Baghelai and Troy reassured me that I could live a long life if I just took special care of my heart.”

LaKeena’s care team also took time to explain everything about the upcoming procedure and refer her to many websites, videos, and other resources, constantly reassuring her that open-heart surgery would repair the valve in her heart, improving her overall energy and strength.

“I was terrified, but they gave me hope,” said LaKeena. “So I agreed to the surgery.”

In a typical open-heart surgery, Dr. Baghelai would replace a valve, but for LaKeena, he took a unique approach. In addition to a leaky valve, LaKeena’s heart had an enlarging aortic root aneurysm which could rupture and result in death, so Dr. Baghelai replaced her aortic root, reimplanting the coronary arteries, and repaired her own valve to avoid the need for blood thinners and valve replacement in the future. In the state of Michigan, only two other institutions, Spectrum Health and the University of Michigan, performed this procedure successfully in 2017 and 2018.

“The surgery is usually four to five hours, but mine was nine,” said LaKeena. “Dr. Baghelai made sure he got everything exactly right.”

As LaKeena recovered from open-heart surgery, she began to feel stronger and more energetic, eventually returning to her routine of work and life.

“Before the surgery, I didn’t even have the energy to hold my head up sometimes,” said LaKeena. “It felt like the blood wasn’t flowing properly. And even though I can’t be on my feet as much as when I was younger, I have the energy to go to my job as a medical receptionist every day now.”

From meeting Dr. Baghelai to undergoing open-heart surgery, LaKeena knew her heart was in good hands.

“I could tell Dr. Baghelai really cared about me,” said LaKeena. “I would recommend him to everyone.”

  

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