November 2019

How a temporary ventricular support device made Tom Chorney rethink the way he looks at life, work and values

By Katja Ridderbusch

The year 2018 was one that the Chorneys would rather erase from their memories. 

“It was a year from hell,” says Mellanie Chorney. It was the year when her husband almost died from heart failure. 

In March 2018, Tom Chorney—a former Army Ranger, who works as an insurance agent and coaches lacrosse in his free time—fell ill after refereeing a high school game. He went to the emergency room, and a few days later had a triple bypass and mitral valve repair at WellStar Kennestone Hospital. 

The surgery went well, but then Tom developed a persistent irregular heart rhythm. He was in and out of the hospital for weeks. In July, he was readmitted, this time in cardiogenic shock—a life-threatening condition “where the heart is so weak that it can’t pump enough blood to the vital organs,” explains Dr. Salvatore Mannino, an interventional cardiolo- gist in the WellStar Hospital System. 

Tom had a slim chance of survival. “He was in very poor shape. His organs started to fail. We needed to act quickly,” Mannino recalls. 

To save his patient’s life, the physician decided to implant an Impella device—the world’s smallest heart pump. It temporarily takes over for the heart and pumps blood through the body, allowing the weakened heart to recover.

The device is typically put in through the groin, but in Tom’s case it was implanted through the arm, giving him the chance to mobilize. Tom became the first patient at WellStar to walk around the hospital ward with an Impella. The device stayed in his body for 21 days. 

“Tom had a tremendously positive attitude,” recalls Mannino, who oversees the Impella program at WellStar and—just like his patient— is originally from Brooklyn, New York. “He was optimistic, upbeat, and extremely motivated.” 

Mellanie Chorney was by her husband’s side every step of the way. “I just couldn’t let myself think he was going to die,” she says. Tom was determined to live—especially for Mellanie and for their daughter, Emma, who is working toward a master’s in kinesiology at Boise State University. 

The Impella device saved Tom’s life, says Mannino. He added that treating patients in cardiogenic shock takes a collaborative effort across multiple disciplines. Tom is grateful to his WellStar care team, including cardiac surgeons Dr. Theresa Luu and Dr. Richard Myung; critical care cardiolo- gist Dr. Rajnish Prasad; and heart failure specialist Dr. Brian Howard, as well as highly skilled nurses and cardiac rehab specialists. 

Dr. Mannino, his fellow Brooklynite, “will always have a special place in my heart,” says Tom with a smile. “Very literally.” 

Today, a year later, Tom is focused on his recovery. He has regained most of the 60 pounds that he lost in the hospital. He goes to cardiac rehab several times a week, hits the gym every morning, and looks forward to returning to work. 

His medical journey changed his outlook on life. “I’m more relaxed and more patient than I used to be,” he says. “Because tomorrow is another day, and I do know I have another day.” 

Copyright: Atlanta Magazine Custom Media / Katja Ridderbusch