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Heart patient reunites with his medical staff

HEART RECOVERY REUNION —Dr. Georges Khoueiry, center, reunites with his former patient Eric Lala, standing to the right of him, at a reunion hosted by North Oaks Medical Center and sponsored by the Abiomed company. Also shown are Sherwin Stuart, RT at North Oaks; Pat Slaven, cath lab manager at North Oaks; and Michael Montet, Abiomed representative.

Photo courtesy of Abiomed

Eric Lala was on the brink of dying one February day, but Dr. Georges Khoueiry and his team were able to get his heart back in working condition using modern technology.

On Thursday evening, North Oaks Medical Center staff got a chance to see the patient fully recovered at a Heart Recovery Reunion that the hospital and the company Abiomed organized.

Abiomed and hospitals host these reunions throughout the country, and Thursday's event was the first time the company hosted one with North Oaks.

The idea is to give medical staff, who worked to save a patient from heart failure, the chance to see the patient all better, while also giving the patient a chance to thank the staff.

Physicians, nurses and others from North Oaks and representatives from Abiomed attended the reunion. Lala, the owner of Chookie's Seafood & Oyster Bar, was there with his wife.

A New Orleans native who lives in Tickfaw, he talked about his harrowing experience and expressed his gratitude to all those who helped his heart recover, despite the odds.

He said he woke up the morning of Feb. 3, feeling short of breath. He thought it was just indigestion but quickly realized it was much more serious.

"I got as far as the footboard of the bed and realized I could hardly breathe," he said.

His wife called for an ambulance. Despite gasping for air, he managed to stay conscious during the ride. He said he was afraid that if he did not stay awake, he would slip away forever.

Once he arrived at the emergency center, his memory went blank. The last thing he remembers is pulling into the emergency driveway. He woke up the next day in a hospital bed.

Lala said he did not have a history of heart problems up until this episode. He said running a restaurant for 14 years has kept him active.

"I just woke up that day and apparently had blockage and couldn't breathe," he said.

Khoueiry, who has been with North Oaks since 2014, said the patient came in with respiratory distress. An angiogram revealed that his "widow maker," the left main, was critically blocked. His heart was in a state of shock, the physician said.

To support Lala's heart during the emergency procedure, Khoueiry and his team placed Lala on an Abiomed Impella, a small heart pump that was inserted into the heart using a minimally invasive procedure.

The cardiologist then placed stents in key places to open his arteries by going through the groin. Khoueiry said performing open heart surgery on Lala would have been too risky.

After the stents were in, Lala became stable and he was transferred to the intensive care unit still on the heart pump that is designed to let the heart rest and potentially recover.

The first day was rough, Khoueiry recalled.

Shortly after being transferred, Lala went into cardiac arrest but was resuscitated. He was given medicine to keep his blood pressure in good range and to fix his acidotic state.

After three days, the team was able to take him off the heart pump. Ten days after his arrival, he was well enough to be discharged from the hospital.