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  • Mary Ann Pietrzycki

    At age 76, Mary Ann Pietrzyck found that she was fighting numerous health battles including congestive heart failure, heart valve disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Several years ago, she underwent an open heart surgery to repair her damaged mitral valve. Following the surgery, she was found to have a ventricular septal defect (VSD) or hole between the bottom chambers of her heart, which occurred as a complication of the open heart procedure. “I had a difficult time breathing,” Pietrzyck says. “I was sick all the time, totally dependent on oxygen and hospitalized once or twice a month.” Pietrzyck’s daughter Kathleen wanted her mother to avoid a second open heart surgery. She researched VSD treatments online and came across a minimally invasive procedure that would close the hole. They discussed the idea with Pietrzyck’s cardiologist, who immediately reached out to Hussam Suradi, MD, medical director of the Structural Heart & Valve Center of Community Healthcare System. Suradi is board-certified and fellowship-trained in structural and congenital interventional cardiology and specializes in minimally invasive procedures such as VSD. “We knew repairing the hole would greatly improve Mary Ann’s quality of life, but she was far too weak for another open heart procedure, so a minimally invasive procedure would be ideal,” says Suradi. “Utilizing a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) and a catheter threaded through the groin, we were able to deploy a device to close the hole. This procedure, called a percutaneous VSD closure, sealed the hole entirely.” After the one-hour procedure, Pietrzyck was discharged the following day and has not been hospitalized since. Her overall health has improved, she has more energy and is less dependent on oxygen. “It was the easiest hospital stay I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “Dr. Suradi was very open throughout the entire process and made me feel comfortable. I couldn’t have received better care from the entire healthcare team.” For more information about the advanced heart and valve interventions available at Community Healthcare System’s Structural Heart & Valve Center, visit

  • William Fortenberry after-photo

    William Fortenberry

    Five years ago, Portage resident, William Fortenberry went through a life-changing experience. While at work, he started experiencing headaches that grew progressively worse over time. A visit to his doctor revealed some alarming news. Fortenberry’s blood pressure was through the roof and his blood glucose levels were dangerously high. In addition to his high blood pressure, Fortenberry was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a condition he knew ran in his family. “I’ve pretty much had a 30-year struggle with trying to lose weight and staying healthy,” he says. “I took diet pills and exercised. Finally, I had maxed out on my blood pressure medications and I could no longer control my glucose levels,” he says. “I realized if I didn’t do something, I was going to die.” Despite his efforts, Fortenberry’s health issues increased. He was taking more than 20 pills daily, slept with a CPAP machine for apnea, and was giving himself insulin shots five times a day to control his diabetes. Fortenberry’s wife encouraged him to attend a free seminar to explore medical and surgical weight loss options offered through the Healthy 4 Life Advanced Weight Loss Center at Community Hospital and St. Mary Medical Center. There, he found a team that understood his complex health challenges and offered a new path toward resolving them. After some success in the medical weight loss program, Fortenberry decided to move forward with bariatric surgery to continue improving. For patients like Fortenberry, bariatric surgery not only helped him lose 160 pounds, it helped him save $6,000 to $7,000 a year on prescription medications. “A few years ago, I just accepted it as part of my life. It didn’t seem like there was light at the end of the tunnel,” he says. “While surgery was not a magic wand – it’s still hard work – I was able to take control of my life. I want to live.” Learn about our outstanding bariatric surgery quality and outcomes through our accreditation by the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation Quality Improvement Program (MBSAQIP). Visit (

  • Luis Romero

    Luis Romero

    Luis Romero’s steady diet of midnight shift work in a Northwest Indiana scrap mill and a rambunctious lifestyle as a teen took its toll on his health three winters ago and became his ultimate wake-up call. The warning bell sounded at 10 p.m. on a blustery February night. Romero had just driven away from his mom’s house in East Chicago. “My vision went in the left eye, so I decided to drive myself to the Emergency department at St. Catherine Hospital,” he recalls. “By the time I got there, everything turned completely white. I could barely see.” Romero shuffled toward the entrance and blacked out. Not only was he suffering from a stroke, but an aortic dissection, a life threatening tear in the wall of the major artery carrying blood out of the heart. His next memory is waking up four days later in the Intensive Care Unit. “I was lucky I woke up at all,” he recalls after later learning he had only a 30 percent chance of survival. Today he calls the action taken by the stroke team specialists the work of angels. “I can’t thank them often enough,” he adds. Chief Nursing Officer Paula Swenson says Romero was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. St. Catherine Hospital is a Cycle-Five Chest Pain Center and Primary Stroke Center. The hospital earned the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get With the Guidelines® Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award and Target: Stroke Honor Roll Elite Award in 2017 from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association for its commitment to stroke care. Community Hospital and St. Mary Medical Center also have earned the Gold Seal of Approval™ from the Joint Commission as Primary Stroke Centers. When it comes to expert stroke intervention, the hospitals of Community Healthcare System offer timely scientific evidence based-care. Visit

  • Mona Young

    Mona Young

    Fifty-six-year-old Mona Young hasn’t let a history of heart problems dull her spirit. Born with a hole in her heart and undergoing an open-heart valve replacement surgery more than 14 years ago, Young has always kept a positive attitude, even after she received a diagnosis of congestive heart failure in 2016. “It was because of the congestive heart failure that my cardiologist, Kais Yehyawi, MD, discovered my pulmonic valve replacement was narrowed and leaking and needed to be replaced again,” she says. With Young’s delicate health, Yehyawi knew another open-heart valve replacement would put her at higher risk for complications. He referred her to Hussam Suradi, MD, an interventional cardiologist who specializes in minimally invasive valve replacements. “Our hospitals have advanced technologies that allow us to treat heart valve diseases through minimally invasive procedures right here in Northwest Indiana,” says Suradi. “Mona was a great candidate for a transcatheter pulmonary valve replacement (TPVR), which utilizes a catheter to place and secure a new valve in the heart.” Immediately following the surgery, Young’s breathing had improved and the swelling in her legs had decreased. She also had improved function on the right side of her heart. “I am so pleased and honored to have this great team of physicians on my side,” she says. “All of my health issues never phased them and as a result, I am feeling so much better.”

  • Ernestine De La Rosa

    Ernestine De La Rosa

    A history of heart conditions and an open heart surgery at age 30 didn’t slow down Ernestine De La Rosa’s busy lifestyle.

    “I’m the kind of person who likes to keep busy, but I knew something was wrong,” says the retired Metropolitan Water Reclamation District worker. “I wasn’t sleeping at night. I could feel my heart pounding. I felt as though I was in heart failure. My legs were swollen and I had shortness of breath,” she says. “I just couldn’t believe what was happening to me.”

    De La Rosa’s cardiologist told her that one of the valves in her heart, the mitral valve, was closing up, a condition called mitral stenosis. She underwent surgical mitral valve repair some 30 years ago for treatment of the condition. However, the narrowing recurred over the years to the extent that it prevented the valve from working properly. That is why she wasn’t feeling well.

    She underwent a minimally invasive procedure to reopen the valve, but it failed and her cardiologist told De La Rosa she would need to undergo another major surgery to treat the valve. Instead, she called her son who lives in Portage and told him she wanted a second opinion from the cardiologist she saw when she lived in Indiana.

    “I was determined to get my heart valve fixed and I knew Dr. Suradi would do it right and without a major operation,” De La Rosa says. “I could feel the difference right away, as soon as I woke up. Before, I couldn’t even climb two steps before I was out of breath.”

    “We have the most advanced tools available to treat heart valve diseases,” says Cardiologist Hussam Suradi, MD, FACC, FSCAI. Suradi is first in the area to use a minimally invasive procedure called percutaneous mitral balloon valvuloplasty, to reopen a narrowed, mitral valve.

    “We are using balloon valvuloplasty which has excellent long-term results to help patients like Ernestine with mitral valve stenosis,” he says. “When we choose the best available technique to treat each individual patient and improve their quality of life, then we have done our job giving our patients the finest care possible.”

    For more information on the Structural Heart & Valve Center at St. Mary Medical Center and Community Hospital, visit

  • Diane Parker

    Diane Parker

    Diane Parker, 61, of Griffith, has lymphedema in her right arm, but has not let it slow her down. The arm, once so swollen that she feared she would be unable to hug a baby or travel in an airplane, is near normal. She credits the competent team at the hospitals of Community Healthcare System for helping her to lead a normal life. “I was frightened when lymphedema flared,” Parker says, recalling how her arm first began to tighten and grow numb after a double mastectomy, removal of nine lymph nodes and radiation therapy. Like Parker, nearly 400,000 women in the U.S. each year are affected by lymphedema, a condition that occurs from swelling in an extremity caused by an accumulation of fluid in the tissues. At Community Hospital in Munster, St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago and St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart, certified lymphedema therapists (CLTs) can help manage swelling through skin care, manual lymphatic drainage, compression and therapeutic exercise. Home management techniques are taught as well, to regain control and quality of life. Those techniques may include exercises, wrapping, massage, pneumatic compression, compression garments and/or complete decongestive therapy. Without treatment, lymphedema can create swelling that becomes so significant it is difficult to walk or raise an arm. It may cause pain or a lingering numbness that bogs one down or worsens with heavy lifting or repetitive gestures. To learn more about lymphedema treatment and classes offered through Community Healthcare System visit

  • Ann Pramuk

    Ann Pramuk

    Ann Pramuk and her husband Richard believe in living life to its fullest. The retired Highland couple enjoys showing their two Model A Fords at car shows and participating in folk dancing. When Ann had difficulty speaking and blurred vision in her right eye, the Pramuk’s busy lifestyle came to a crashing halt.

    The year before, Ann had a MRI that revealed a brain tumor known as a meningioma. To find out what was different now, another MRI was taken and showed that the tumor had grown and was pressing on vital nerves in the right front side of the brain. The tumor needed to be removed or she would go blind.

    “She clearly was going to lose her vision if we didn’t do the surgery,” lead neurosurgeon Mohammad Shukairy, MD, says. The delicate surgery took Community Hospital’s specialized team seven hours under a microscope to remove the tumor that had grown to about 2-inches in size.

    “We did what is called a skull-base approach. It offers the safest approach in that we removed the bone at the base of the skull to allow the best access to the tumor with the least amount of interference.”

    Risks involved with this intricate type of surgery include seizures, blood clots, confusion and stroke, Shukairy says.

    “I had so many different doctors, nurses and therapists coming in from different departments – all who were very nice and provided good care,” Pramuk says. “My eyesight is fine, balance got better and my walking improved. It wasn’t long before I was dancing again!”

    Find out more about sight-saving, life-saving Neurosurgery at the hospitals of Community Healthcare System.

  • Tom Liubakka

    Tom Liubakka

    Fifty-seven year old Tom Liubakka of Crown Point had a stroke in August, 2015. He credits his recovery to the swift actions of St. Mary Medical Center’s stroke team and one therapist in particular.

    “I was sleeping and when I woke up in the morning, I realized that my right side was numb. So I waited for a few minutes and it remained numb and tingling so I went to stand up and I couldn’t walk on my right leg. I told my wife ‘there’s something wrong’ and she took me right to St. Mary Medical Center. She knew St. Mary’s is known for excellence in stroke care and treatment would be immediate – as soon as I arrived,” Liubakka says.

    “For two weeks, I recovered in rehabilitation at St. Mary Medical Center,” he says. “I am an artist and I am right handed. I could not use my right hand. I worked with Carmen VanKley, certified occupational therapy assistant, to not only regain use of my right hand, but learn to use my left hand so I could continue to draw through my recovery. Now I use my right hand and my left hand to draw.”

    “Recovering from a stroke can mean a long and challenging rehabilitation,” says April Schutter, RN, BSN, stroke coordinator at St. Mary Medical Center. “The stress associated with developing new skills, relearning previous skills and making lifelong adjustments can be very difficult for patients. Support from family and friends is vital to a successful recovery. That is why it is important to choose a rehabilitation center that is convenient and close to home.”

    For more information about how the hospitals of Community Healthcare System help people through stroke and recovery, click here.

  • Virgil Powell

    Virgil Powell

    Last October, 48 year-old Powell was downstairs playing with his grandkids and went to stand up and found that he couldn’t move his right arm or leg. So he slid back down onto the sofa. He called for help. His son carried him to the car and his wife drove him to the hospital.

    “I knew that an ambulance wouldn’t take me to St. Catherine Hospital because we live in unincorporated Calumet Township – too far away, but I knew I wanted to go there because my mother had been treated there for a stroke the year before and I knew the care would be excellent,” Powell says.

    By the time he got to the hospital he wasn’t able to move his right side at all.

    “That’s when I met Suzanna Gonzalez, stroke coordinator and several nurses and doctors and they made arrangements to give me tPA right away,” Powell says. “It was about 45 minutes from the time my wife and I left my house to the time I had the tPA shot.”

    “My doctors told me my stroke could have been a lot worse if I didn’t have the tPA,” he says. “If they didn’t give me the shot; I could have lost the use of my whole right side. I was in the hospital for seven days in both the ICU and IMCU. After a couple of days in ICU, I was moving around on my own.”

    For St. Catherine Hospital patient Virgil Powell, tPA made a difference.

    “The nurses and doctors at St. Catherine Hospital were excellent,” Powell says. “I’m back home playing with my grandkids again.”

    The hospitals of Community Healthcare System have received the American Heart and Stroke Association’s Stroke Silver Plus Quality Achievement and St. Catherine Hospital has been placed on the Target: Stroke Honor Roll, for improving stroke care. This means that consistently, at least 50 percent of St. Catherine Hospital’s eligible ischemic stroke patients (those with a blood clot) receive the clot busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator or tPA, within 60 minutes of arriving at the hospital (known as ‘door-to-needle’ time).

    Learn more about stroke care at the hospitals of Community Healthcare System, click here.

  • Liz Breslin

    Liz Breslin

    Highland resident Elizabeth Breslin woke up on the morning of April 7, 2016, and thought a balloon had popped in her eye. She tried to call out to her husband for help, but the words that came out didn’t make sense. She tried to get up, but couldn’t move her left side.

    Within minutes, she was transported by ambulance to the Community Hospital Emergency Department, had a preliminary assessment and eye exam in the ambulance, and once at the hospital, was heading for a CT scan.

    “The entire Stroke Care team was waiting for me – my neurologist was there, my team of nurses, the radiologist,” 62-year old Breslin says. “They saved my life because they knew everything to do. My stroke happened at about 6:10 am. I was at the hospital and received tPA by 6:50 am. By 11 am, my nurse Karen asked me to describe a series of pictures and I could answer her and began to move my fingers. I was admitted to Neuro IMCU for five days. Then I began rehab. I have no side effects now, none.”

    I will tell everybody I know, I just had a stroke and look at me,” she says. “I’m back to volunteer work for the Council for Community Events in Highland.”

    Liz was in the right place at the right time for her stroke care. For more information about how the hospitals of Community Healthcare System help people through stroke and recovery, click here.

Displaying 1-10 of 40 results