Tag Archives: Brian deGuzman MD

In heartfelt company

I spent Saturday morning in a room full of broken hearts. Some were beating a lot faster than they should have been. Some were being monitored electronically. And some were beating only with the help of a pacemaker.

It was two days before Valentine’s Day, and I had taken my mom to a heart symposium at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center. The topic was atrial fibrillation, something my mom has experienced for herself. (Her husband and I experienced it too, one Saturday morning when I was visiting them in Green Valley. One second Mom was stirring oatmeal at the stove and the next she had fallen over backwards in a dead faint, whacking her head on the tile floor near my feet.)

Atrial Fibrillation (also called AF or AFib) is a common heart rhythm disorder caused by rapid and uncoordinated conduction of electrical impulses from the upper chambers of the heart, according to materials created for the session, which was conducted by physicians from the Heart & Lung Institute at St. Joe’s. AFib affects more than two million people in the U.S. and is a leading cause of stroke. It can also lead to early heart failure and the need for a pacemaker if not properly treated.

My mom’s first indication that she had heart disease occurred one fall a few years ago, when she and her husband were driving from Arizona to Pennsylvania. She didn’t know that her fatigue, swollen ankles and difficulty breathing were related to her heart. When she got home and reported the symptoms to her doctor, she was immediately hospitalized for congestive heart failure. Some time later, she underwent a catheter ablation procedure to stop the wildly firing electrical signals in the left atrium of her heart. Since then she has been been relatively symptom-free and can take aspirin (not the rat poison Coumadin, which is commonly prescribed) to keep her blood thin enough to prevent formation of a clot that could travel to her brain and cause a stroke.

While my mom’s heart condition is stable, it was sobering to learn during the Saturday session that the catheter ablation procedure is not a definitive cure for AFib. At some point she may have to consider other options.

It was jaw-dropping amazing to listen to cardiac electrophysiologist Wilber W. Su, M.D. describe the cryoballoon procedure he can do to cure some types of AFib. (Su was the primary investigator on a device that was just approved last Christmas. The Heart & Lung Institute is now the only site in Arizona where this minimally invasive procedure can be done.)

Then cardiac surgeon Lishan Aklog, M.D., director of The Cardiovascular Center at the Heart & Lung Institute, described surgical cures for AFib that were unheard of as recently as six years ago.

In January, during research for an independent writing project, I witnessed one of those procedures during a six-hour open-heart surgery. Brian deGuzman, M.D., associate chief of cardiovascular surgery at the Heart & Lung Institute, invited me to observe a complicated surgery that included an open maze procedure, in which calculated burns are made to the upper chambers of the heart to block the scattergun effect of uncontrolled electrical signals and channel them through a “maze” that helps them more efficiently signal the ventricle to contract.

My mom and I left the heart symposium inspired and grateful for the opportunity to have a greater understanding of AFib and the cutting-edge options that are available to her should she need them. We both thought sharing that educational journey was a perfect way to say  “I love you.”

For information about the Atrial Fibrillation Clinic at St. Joe’s, call 602-406-2651 or email info@atrialfibclinic.com.


Ethiopia – Winging it with a prayer, and support from some pros

When I traveled with adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman to Ethiopia last July, I kept wishing I had eight arms: two for writing notes, two for taking pictures, two for recording audio and two for capturing video.

Juggling the tools of my trade. Photo by Brian deGuzman, M.D..

Without that option, of course, I had to keep making judgment calls about which tools of the trade to pull out to help me remember details from the events and conversations that were so quickly unfolding. I’m not trained as a multimedia journalist, so my first instinct was to forgo the higher-tech audio/video efforts and all the related beginner’s-level fumbling and lack of confidence. My comfort zone is words and pictures; that’s where I tended to focus. But certain events demanded more.

When that happened, I did the best I could to wing it, praying fervently that the audio/video was really recording, that I’d get it transferred onto my laptop properly, that I wouldn’t get home with nothing to show from the extraordinary moments I had witnessed.

I have about half an hour of video footage from the first intimate moments the deGuzmans spent with their new babies in a foster home that provides care for children who have been referred to families through Christian World Adoption in Addis Ababa. The quality of the footage is not that great. I was fighting not just inexperience but small, cramped spaces, inadequate light and restrictions against photographing any of the other children at the foster home. I was also determined not to interfere with a moment that was deeply personal and spiritually powerful.

The events of that Saturday afternoon fulfilled a journey that began more than three years earlier, when the deGuzman’s adopted their daughter Jesmina, now 4, and continued a year later when they adopted their son Musse, now 3. With these two babies, Solomon and Tesfanesh, the deGuzman family is complete.

Four months later, over the Thanksgiving weekend, I shut myself off in my home office, determined to learn Final Cut Express so I could edit my video footage from that day into something people might actually watch. Something no more than three or four minutes long.

I did okay with the editing but got completely stuck on some of the technical aspects. So I’m grateful for the support and encouragement of a real multimedia journalist, RAK staff member Vicki Louk Balint, and audio/visual production expert Rob Turchick of yipDog Studios, both of whom spent several hours at my house one day cleaning up my mistakes while I played on the floor with Rob’s youngest son, Tyler.

I am also deeply, humbly grateful to the deGuzmans, who invited me to share this journey with them and trusted me to convey it to others.