Nearly 25 years ago, Carol Kustra and her husband moved from North Huntingdon, Pa., to her family home in nearby McKeesport to care for her aging mother.
“She and my late father were both Jehovah’s Witnesses. She was housebound by severe arthritis and needed new knees. But she refused to even think about surgery because of the blood issue,” says Carol, who shares her parents’ faith. “She was a joyful person, but she lived with great pain until she passed away.”
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What Does Bloodless Medicine Mean?
Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the many people who reject the use of blood transfusions or blood products for religious or personal reasons. Since 2010, the UPMC Patient Blood Management Program has been a leading force in bloodless medicine. Its multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, and health care professionals provides alternative blood management techniques for all types of surgery.
In the fall of 2020, at the age of 75, Carol learned that she needed knee replacement surgery herself. “Of course, my faith led me to request bloodless surgery,” says Carol. “Deborah Tatro, UPMC’s bloodless medicine patient advocate, connected me with what I needed to do. My knee surgery at UPMC East went great, even though I lost more blood than was expected.”
A little more than a week later, while recovering from her surgery, Carol was exercising and suddenly couldn’t breathe. “I tried to talk, but I couldn’t get words out,” she recalls. “My husband rushed me to UPMC East where they told me I’d had a heart attack.”
Carol learned her heart attack had some relation to a heart valve problem. Her father had died of a massive heart attack in 1977 after taking the family dogs for an evening walk. “I realize now that we both had types of aortic valve disease,” she says. “My dad’s aorta ruptured. I was grateful that they found my problem early enough to fix.”
UPMC East referred her to UPMC cardiologist Chelcie Costabile, DO, who diagnosed Carol with advanced aortic stenosis. After more than a year of monitoring and treating her condition, Dr. Costabile advised Carol to have surgery. “My aortic valve was narrowing. Left untreated, I could just fall over one day like my dad did.”
On May 19, 2022, Carol underwent transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) surgery at UPMC Shadyside. Specialists at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute have offered this minimally invasive procedure since 2011 to individuals with serious heart conditions.
Collaborating with UPMC’s bloodless medicine experts, UPMC cardiac surgeon Derek Serna-Gallegos, MD, replaced Carol’s malfunctioning valve with a new one that delivered better blood flow throughout her body.
Carol cautions bloodless medicine patients to take their time when signing paperwork for surgery. “I rushed and missed some critical sections indicating my wishes for bloodless medicine,” she says. “I’ll always be grateful to a UPMC nurse for pointing out my oversight.”
Her quick recovery surprised family and friends alike. “I stayed overnight after surgery. After a few tests the next morning, I was cleared to go home,” says Carol.
“All my caregivers were total professionals. UPMC is totally in tune with bloodless medicine. Everyone completely understood and supported my choice. I hope I won’t need another surgery, but if I do, it will be at UPMC!”
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
The UPMC Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) Center is a joint program between UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. We provide long-term care for adolescents, young adults, maternal patients, and adults with congenital heart disease. Our goal is to provide complete care from your childhood all the way through your life. Our team of experts has a wide knowledge of heart conditions.