MADISON—John Hurschik was born with not one, but two life-threatening heart conditions. Doctors repaired the first one at birth, but it was more than five decades before they operated to fix the second.
Hurschik, of Delevan, Wisconsin, was born with blue-baby heart disease, a congenital condition in which his right and left arteries were transposed. He was also born with a left ventricular septal defect (VSD) — basically, a hole in the heart wall that separates the left and right ventricles.
Doctors operated on Hurschik when he was six months and six years old to re-route the blood flow in his heart so that his right ventricle, not his left, was responsible for pumping his blood. Hurschik's doctors tried to close the septal defect, but at the time, the surgery was considered too risky to attempt.
So Hurschik just lived with it.
"I had limitations," he recalls. "I could never play sports or do any strenuous lifting. But I also came to think of my life as normal."
Hurschik's life stopped being normal last year, when his reconfigured heart finally began to weaken. It was time to close the hole that he'd been living with all these years. Hurschik was referred to UW Hospital and Clinics, where a team of doctors that included UW Health cardiologist Dr. John Hokanson
used a device called an Amplatzer muscular VSD occluder to fix the problem.
The UW team threaded the device through a tube in a vein in Hurshik's leg, through his heart and into the hole, where it opened like an umbrella and plugged the hole.
Hokanson notes that the procedure Hurshik had as a child was designed to help him function for many years, but not over an entire lifetime. Without those surgeries, the chances Hurschik would have lived to see the age of 10 were only about 1 percent.
"That original hole he'd been living with all these years made John's heart less efficient, and at the time of his surgery, he had no efficiency to spare," Hokanson says. "But with the complexity of his heart disease, another open heart surgery wasn't an appealing option."
According to Hokanson, doctors only encounter a small handful of VSD patients for whom the occluder is a recommended treatment.
Hurschik's heart still isn't completely normal, but the successful procedure - he's been recovering at his Delavan home for the last few weeks - has resolved several life-threatening issues and given him a seriously improved bill of health.
"Considering my unusual anatomy, I think the surgery went pretty darn good," says Hurshik. "I'm still getting used to the idea of having an efficiently functioning heart."