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We Take Your Health to Heart

Surgery Mends Broken Heart

Cory Schoonover

Cory SchoonoverCory Schoonover loves to play football. The 20-year-old Gilbert resident is a wide receiver for the Tempe Predators. When he’s not on the field, Cory works at his family’s business, FNF Construction. 

Cory’s family serves as his cheering squad – now and during his amazing recovery from a near-fatal accident two years ago. 

In the summer of 2007, Cory was hard at work when a freak accident left him crushed between two conveyor belts. He was transported via rescue helicopter to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center. At first, physicians determined that he had suffered a cardiac contusion – a bruise to the heart. However, after a day in the hospital for observation and testing, his condition rapidly deteriorated. He experienced increased breathing problems and his kidneys and liver started to shut down. Cory’s physician, cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Robert Riley explains, “On the outside, everything looked ‘normal.’ There was a small bruise to the chest. This was a perplexing case – we could not determine why his condition was worsening. We knew that his tricuspid valve had sustained some injury, other than that there was no explanation for his condition. It was a dire situation – we knew that we had to perform surgery in order to save his life. Nothing prepared for us for what we found once we were in the Operating Room (OR). 

Before I went into the OR, I did some quick research and found that there were only 13 reported cases similar to Cory’s with this extent of trauma to the valve; little did I know then that Cory was about to make medical history!” 

While Dr. Riley prepared for the one-of-a-kind-surgery, Cory’s friends and family kept a close vigil at the hospital. “It was nerve wracking,” says his mom, Julie. “We were in shock, one minute you have this healthy, strong young man and the next, he’s fighting for his life.” 

“I went into the surgery with the intent of replacing his valve; then I discovered three additional conditions,” says Dr. Riley. Cory had suffered massive trauma- his heart had been crushed by the accident and had ruptured causing the tricuspid valve to tear away creating a hole in his heart. In addition, an artery literally ripped off the aorta. 

I was amazed at how much of the heart was destroyed,” comments Dr. Riley. “Each time I found one condition and repaired it, something else popped up, we went in for one operation and ended up doing four!” 

Fast-forward to today and Cory has few memories of the accident and the surgery. “The doctor told me that my heart exploded, it looked like someone had stomped on it! I realize how lucky I am.” After leaving the hospital, Cory received cardiac rehabilitation for two months and came to terms with the after effects of the accident. 

Thanks to his heart wrenching experience, Cory and his family have a new outlook on life. “We don’t take anything for granted,” says Kevin, Cory’s dad. Each day is a blessing and we are thankful for everything.” 

“Everything has changed for me,” Cory says, “My family and I are closer now, I play football which is something I wasn’t able to do before. I realize that through this experience, I really want to help other people. I’ve never been through anything like this, I took things for granted. Not any more!” 

Cory and Dr. Riley were recognized at Scottsdale Healthcare’s Galleria of Fine Hearts- an annual program designed to highlight the amazing stories of heart patients and recognize the work of their physicians and the nursing staff. Awards were presented in several different categories, Cory has the distinction of being the most decorated of all the heart patients, receiving awards in four categories - “Youngest Patient,” “Most Surgeries in One Case,” “Least Likely to Survive,” and “Patient Story Which Reminds Us Why We Come to Work Every Day.” 

Wise beyond his years, Cory looks ahead to a bright future “I tell everyone, never give up, if I can make it through this, you can too; there is always hope.”

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