February 24, 2020
Thirty years ago, just before New Year’s Day, then-28-year-old Hugo Morales began experiencing chills, nausea and heart palpitations, and he went to the Emergency Department at Palisades Medical Center. The last thing he expected to hear was that he would have open-heart surgery the next morning.
“I was just getting ready to celebrate the holiday when I told my friend that I didn’t feel well,” Hugo says. He was not worried about his symptoms at first because he was young and healthy, but after several hours of worsening chills, heart palpitations and increasing lightheadedness, he decided it was time for the hospital.
After seeing different doctors in the Emergency Department and undergoing tests, including a procedure to check for a bleeding ulcer, Hugo’s puzzling symptoms were diagnosed by Aaron A. Stein, M.D., FACC, a cardiologist at Palisades.
“I heard loud heart murmurs that were not explained by a chronic condition, especially in a young, healthy person,” Dr. Stein explains. An echocardiogram confirmed the diagnosis: ruptured sinus of Valsalva aneurysm (SVA), a rare cardiac abnormality that occurs in only 0.09 percent of the general population.
“I had never seen a patient with an SVA before, and I have not seen one since. But I had learned about it in my fellowship,” Dr. Stein says.
What Is SVA?
An SVA is a rare cardiac abnormality and a congenital condition, which means that people are born with it. SVA is a weakening in the wall of one of the three small pouches, or sinuses, in the heart that sit above the aortic valve. When the aneurysm in the sinus ruptures, blood flows from one side of the heart to the other, which causes heart palpitations, blackouts and shortness of breath, and can eventually lead to heart failure.
Care That Doesn’t End
The surgical repair of the rupture was successful, and Hugo credits Dr. Stein with saving his life and keeping him healthy throughout the years that followed. “I went to him for follow-up after the surgery, and he asked if I would continue regular appointments so he could monitor my heart,” Hugo says. “For 30 years, I’ve trusted him to keep my heart healthy so I could live an active, rewarding life.”
While Dr. Stein has patients that he sees for many years, most of them are older when they first come to him. So a 30-year relationship with a person who is just now 58 years old is unusual. Their long-term relationship has proved fortunate on more than one occasion.
For example, during a checkup and testing, Dr. Stein recognized something amiss on Hugo’s kidney and referred him to a urologist. Hugo found out he had a mass on his kidney, which fortunately was removed surgically. “I trust Dr. Stein when he tells me that I need to see someone else for a problem or when I need to come in for tests,” Hugo says.
Dr. Stein points out that Hugo does not want to put off seeking tests or seeing other physicians if necessary because of his scare when he was 28. “Because I know what Hugo has experienced before, I understand his needs, both psychologically and practically,” he says. “The knowledge and trust that can develop between a doctor and patient over a long period of time leads to the best care.”
Lifetime of Accomplishments
In addition to a successful and rewarding career as director of marketing and branding at a higher-education institution, Hugo has his own marketing and design business. He is an active artist whose paintings and photographs have been displayed in a variety of galleries. He teaches art classes and has been active in the Council on Hispanic Affairs, where he has coordinated many cultural events such as the Festival de los Andes.
“I would not have been able to accomplish what I’ve accomplished without Dr. Stein because I would not have survived or recovered completely,” Hugo says. “We have things in common and will talk about travel and photography, but the most important conversations are when he is talking to me about my health. Dr. Stein takes his role as a healer and caregiver very seriously.”
Learn how Hackensack Meridian Health can protect your heart health with exceptional cardiac services.
Dr. Stein practices in North Bergen and Englewood. To make an appointment, call 201-869-1313.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.