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Woman, 81, defies prediction of death Heart resumes pumping after doctors' hopes fade


MERRILLVILLE, Ind. -- Mary Jane Willingham and Lois Halfman were planning their mother's funeral -- figuring out where they could get a coffin like their grandfather's, talking about which priest would say the funeral Mass, trying to remember other instructions she had given them over the years.

They were interrupted by news that the 81-year-old Merrillville woman's heart had started pumping again.

Anita Marks Patrizi had lain three days in Southlake Methodist Hospital's intensive-care unit with her chest pried open and packed with sterile gauze while a machine took over the work of her heart.

On March 13, her doctors asked permission to shut off the left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that had been hooked to Ms. Patrizi's heart since they repaired a valve and bypassed three blocked arteries. They warned the family she might not make it.

Ms. Willingham nodded yes and pulled her sister into a small waiting room to talk. Ms. Willingham now says their interrupted funeral discussion can probably be put off for a while. Ms. Patrizi is scheduled to go home tomorrow.

Ms. Patrizi is the only Southlake Methodist patient to survive after being placed on the LVAD heart machine, said ICU nursing director Deborah Jezuit.

Nationally, 25 to 30 percent of LVAD patients survive, said Victor Poirier, president of Thermo Cardiosystems Inc., a Woburn, Mass., company which manufactures LVADs. Mr. Poirier invented an LVAD used for heart transplant patients.

Ms. Patrizi's surgeon, Veera Porapaiboon, did not return repeated calls.

"Every doctor here has said by rights she should be dead," said Ms. Willingham.

Ms. Patrizi's general practitioner, Dr. John G. Kolettis, said that wasn't the last time Ms. Patrizi proved doctors wrong.

After her heart started, Ms. Patrizi's kidneys failed.

"The nephrologist felt she was gone," Dr. Kolettis said. "But I know this patient and so I pushed him."

Dr. Kolettis asked for dialysis every day, rather than every other day as the nephrologist prescribed. Her kidneys started working again six weeks later.

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