Heart Surgery Survivor Urges Regular Screening

George Ellison knows he’s lucky. Diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic valve in 2008, a congenital heart condition characterized by constricted blood flow in the heart, George comes from a family with a long history of heart disease. His father, grandfather and uncle all succumbed to cardiac disease when they were in their early 70s, a track record that was highly concerning to the 66-year-old George.

“The history of males on my father’s side of the family really not getting past their early 70s was glaring,” he recently said in a story published in the Newburyport Daily News. What was worse, though, was that there were no obvious signs of serious disease. “These people were all athletes and they were all in the military.”

Given his diagnosis, George and his primary care physician kept a close eye on his heart health. After receiving an abnormal electrocardiogram in June 2022, Ellison was referred to Dr. Salman Ghiasuddin at Anna Jacques Hospital, where he underwent further testing. Dr. Ghiasuddin conducted an ultrasound cardiac echogram, which showed one of George’s heart valves had dangerously narrowed. Worse still, the ultrasound also revealed some leakage that could have eventually led to an aneurysm.

They monitored the situation, but after George’s condition worsened, he was admitted to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston to undergo open heart surgery.

The surgery was ultimately a success. After a period of rest and recovery, George was back to some of his favorite activities: playing golf and spending time with his family. He’s even started a weightlifting routine to help him maintain his heart health.

George now considers himself a healthcare advocate, and he urges people not to ignore health abnormalities, especially those that don’t seem serious on the surface. “If someone’s out of breath from any sort of activity, they should really be checked for some type of heart issue,” he said. “It may not be there, it may be that they are just getting old. But it could very well be that there’s a heart issue there and they don’t know about it.”

In an email to the Newburyport Daily News, in which he also urged regular screening, Dr. Ghiasuddin wrote that “the severity of symptoms does not always correlate to the underlying condition. You can have a serious disease, but your symptoms may not be that intense.”

George makes sure the members of his family understand that they are genetically predisposed to heart conditions. He held a family-wide Zoom meeting encouraging family members to take action by staying on top of their heart health. “I wanted to make the rest of the family aware of this,” he said. “I told them about the family history and recommended that they all talk to their physicians about this the next time they had a physical.”

Other members of George’s family have since been diagnosed with the same heart condition he has. The message from George Ellison is clear: Talk to your primary care physician about your heart health. A simple screening could make all the difference.

This story was first reported by the Newburyport Daily News. Read the full story here.