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The War Within

Severe illness brings military flight engineer home to AMH.

Air Force Guard Flight Engineer Michael Jones has handled difficult conditions his entire career. But on a deployment to Afghanistan in December 2009, the Warminster resident developed a serious cough.

Michael Jones and his grandson Bryce

Before it was all over, Michael would need coils in his brain to stop the bleeding and a mitral valve replacement. For Neurointerventional Neurologist Qaisar A. Shah, M.D. and Cardiothoracic Surgeon Mauricio J. Garrido, M.D., saving Michael’s life was priority one.

The married father of four was just “doing his job” on a mission to Afghanistan. “I thought I had bronchitis,” he recalls. “You’re there to fly, so you just deal with it.” Then he coughed so hard he threw his back out of alignment.

Grounded by the pain and for his own safety, Michael waited until January 2010 for a flight home. His family doctor began treating his bronchitis with antibiotics and prescribed a regimen of physical therapy for his back pain. “But my physician was worried. I had anemia and had lost about 30 pounds,” the flight engineer remembers. After further testing as an inpatient in Abington Memorial Hospital, he began treatment for sepsis.

However, the infection Michael had developed in Afghanistan resulted in a condition called endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart. He was released from the hospital but continued on a regimen of antibiotics.

Two days after his discharge, Michael, his wife Anne, and grandson Bryce stopped at a local restaurant. “I began talking incomprehensibly – the words coming out of my mouth didn’t make sense,” Michael says. “At one point, I couldn’t remember my name.” His erratic speech signaled that something neurological had gone awry.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Mauricio Garrido, MD explains, “Michael had suffered spread of the heart valve infection to his brain and also his spleen. Despite his weakened state, Michael needed an operation on his heart valve.”

But first, Neurointerventionalists Qaisar Shah, MD and Osman Kozak, MD performed a cerebral angiogram and found that Michael had bleeding inside his brain. “The infection in the heart had indeed spread to his brain, weakening blood vessels and forming an aneurysm,” Dr. Shah explains. “We needed to secure the aneurysm emergently by sealing it and preventing any future bleed.”

Doctors Shah and Kozak used interventional radiologic technology to navigate the catheter from blood vessels in the groin into his brain. Once in the brain, the doctors placed soft platinum coils until the aneurysm completely disappeared.

Shortly after his neurointerventional procedure, the flight engineer underwent mitral valve surgery.  Dr. Garrido notes, “The procedure involved removing the infected valve and replacing it with a valve made from cow tissue that allowed Michael to fight off the infection and pump blood through his heart properly.” Michael was hospitalized for almost a month. “My doctors said that being in good physical shape helped me fight all the complications,” he adds. “They treated me really well and the nurses were great. Everyone explained to my wife and children what was being done at all times, and why.” 

Now back home in Warminster, Michael  is taking it easy, spending time with his family, including taking his young grandson fishing. 

“It’s been a life-altering experience for me,” he admits. “I hadn’t been hospitalized since the ‘80’s, but I just felt really comfortable with my decision to be treated  at Abington Memorial Hospital. 

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