Back-to-back heart, brain surgeries have Cleveland Clinic patient home for the holidays


CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) – Born with a heart defect, Neil Freeman has been living with heart issues for all his 59 years.

Undergoing two previous heart-valve replacement procedures didn’t seem to be the cure.

“They can’t figure out what keeps growing on them or attacking them,” he said.

Freeman lives in Watertown, New York and before going under the knife for a third time, he traveled to the Cleveland Clinic for a second opinion.

But while waiting to undergo surgery, he began experiencing symptoms of a stroke.

“I could feel it coming on. My face would start drooping. My whole left side would go numb,” Freeman said.

While very rare, doctors attribute the stroke episodes to his bad heart, which cause calcium to break off into little pieces, traveling to his brain.

Cleveland Clinic neurosurgeon Dr. Gabor Toth performed the critical brain surgery to remove calcium rock and it was a race against the clock.

“It certainly sounded quite severe that it could not wait much longer. Risking the patient to go into heart failure or some other heart problem, and so yes, unfortunately, we were certainly squeezed on two fronts,” Dr. Toth said.

“Everybody was really great at the clinic, so I wasn’t really worried about the heart surgery as much as I was the the brain stuff,” said Freeman.

Less than a week later, Neil went on to have heart surgery. The back-to-back procedures were both successful.

The husband, father and grandfather is thankful to be back home with his family just in time for Christmas.

“As you get older, it seems all you do is go to funerals and calling hours. So, I’m just glad they didn’t have to do one for me,” Freeman said.

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