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Western Connecticut Medical Group Heart Team Saves the Day, Thanks to Wife’s Quick Action

Thursday, May 02, 2013 - Danbury, CT

Cary Passik, M.D.

Cary Passik, M.D.
Chief, Cardiothoracic Surgery
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When retired business consultant Richard Lelash starts to talk about his experience with Danbury Hospital and Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Cary Passik, a look of gratitude comes over his face. The 67-year-old Redding resident explains: "My personal brush with death and recovery began around 2 in the morning one day in February 2012, when I was overcome with what I thought was a particularly rough bout of heartburn. My wife, who sensed it was more serious than that, dialed 911. The police arrived within four minutes, but by then I was already out cold on the floor. The trooper hooked me up to an oxygen pack to ease my breathing while the wonderful Redding volunteer ambulance corps prepared to cart me off to the hospital. Fortuitously, once the EMTs looked me over, they called ahead to the Danbury ER to say I was critical. Dr. Passik and his cardio team were waiting for me in the OR, ready to work their magic."

An emergent aortic dissection has about as grim a prognosis as any cardiac emergency. In fact, the mortality of this type of dissection is 1 percent per hour for the first 24 hours. Lelash's case had not been foreshadowed beyond his having hypertension, but as happens occasionally, particularly in older men, the layers lining a portion of the aorta simply came apart after years of stress. Blood finds new channels in which to flow or becomes trapped and blood pressure drops precipitously.

Dr. Passik later told his patient that he was lucky to have survived the initial event. Surgery included the use of deep hypothermic circulatory arrest, in which the patient's body is cooled to 18˚C, and the circulation is temporarily stopped, while the team worked feverishly to locate the tear, cut away the unsalvageable parts and rejoin the healthy sections of his ascending aorta with a fabric graft that restored circulation.

"If I had been any worse, I wouldn't be here," says Lelash, who attributes his ultimate survival to Dr. Passik's extraordinary skills and his emphasis on working with a team of cardiovascular specialists and anesthesiologists, performing seamlessly as one. They are complemented by a team of cardiologists, interventional cardiologists, nurses, technologists and other professionals at Danbury Hospital's Praxair Regional Heart and Vascular Center, which offers the region's most comprehensive services and expertise dedicated to heart health.

Lelash remained unconscious and unaware of any of the near-lethal events that had brought him to the hospital for another three days post-surgery. "Waking up in the ICU on day four, I remained under 24-hour surveillance for another three days, spent another week in a private room on the step down unit, and then went home to fully recuperate."

"I'm grateful for everything, and if I continue to follow doctor's orders and exercise regularly, I am told I'll make a full recovery. Best of all, the scare has made me more philosophical about life. I pay attention now. Thank you, Danbury Hospital, for making Dr. Passik part of our community. They don't make them better than this guy, anywhere."

For more information regarding cardiac programs and services, go to, or to find a Western Connecticut Medical Group cardiologist in your area call 1-800-516-4743.

About Western Connecticut Health Network

Western Connecticut Health Network is the region's premier, patient-centered health care organization serving residents of Western Connecticut and adjacent New York. The organization is anchored by two nationally recognized hospitals, Danbury Hospital and New Milford Hospital, as well as their affiliated organizations. In addition to the two hospitals, the continuum of care offered includes the following affiliates:

  • Western Connecticut Medical Group, an integrated physician practice with primary and specialty care expertise
  • Western Connecticut Home Care, an agency for home care and community health services
  • The Western Connecticut Health Network Foundations
  • emergency medical and Level II trauma services
  • an occupational wellness and medicine program, providing services for business and industry
  • a nationally renowned Biomedical Research Institute

Western Connecticut Health Network has centers of excellence in women's health, cardiovascular and cancer services; minimally invasive joint and spine surgery; digestive disorders, weight-loss (bariatric) surgery, and radiology and diagnostic imaging. It also offers specialized programs for neonatology with a Level IIIb neonatal intensive care unit and accredited sleep disorder centers. Both hospitals also maintain active clinical research programs, offering clinical trials for patients with cancer and other health concerns. Danbury Hospital was named a Top 100 Hospital by US News and World reports in 2012; a and a Top 100 for Value by Cleverly and Associates. New Milford Hospital is well known as a Planetree hospital and for its Plow to Plate, farm to table food program.

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