Image of Michael Marchand, a heart patient, and his MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center care team.

On a brisk winter day, Michael Marchand appreciates working from home.

If you ask him why days like this are so special, he’ll begin gushing about his ten-year-old daughter. He’ll share the joy he feels when he sets aside the computer during his lunch hour and watches his little girl play outside. After surviving a life-threatening cardiac event only months earlier, Michael, 58, wakes up every morning with gratitude.

“My wife and I didn’t know how serious it was until a week after the surgery, when it all began to sink in,” says Michael, a paraplegic since age 19. “People kept telling us how fortunate I was to be alive.”


As he prepared to transfer from his wheelchair to his car seat at the end of a typical workday at the Federal Building in Laguna Niguel, Michael felt a sudden severe pain in his chest. When his fingers went numb, he knew something serious was happening.
“It was unlike anything I’d ever felt before,” says Michael. “I thought I was having a heart attack.”

Michael was transported to the designated Cardiac Receiving Center at Saddleback Medical Center. He was quickly diagnosed with an acute ascending aortic dissection, or a tear in the large artery – called the aorta – that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. This tear can lead to a rupture and compromise blood flow to the organs.

“Aortic dissection is rare and can be fatal,” says Marc Taub, M.D., medical director of emergency services at Saddleback Medical Center. “The clock is ticking because emergency surgical repair is the only treatment. A prompt diagnosis saved Michael’s life.”

Erick Montero, M.D., cardiac surgeon and medical director of cardiothoracic surgery at Saddleback Medical Center, agrees.

“The mortality rate for this condition is one percent per hour, and just 50 percent of patients survive it,” says Dr. Montero. “Because the symptoms may mimic those of other diseases, we knew time was of the essence for Michael. Our on-call response team moved quickly so there was no delay in diagnosis.”


During Michael’s nine-hour surgery, Dr. Montero and the entire 24/7 on-call response team, including anesthesiologists, nurses, technicians, a physician’s assistant and an assistant surgeon, worked diligently to repair the damage.


The nurses frequently updated Michael’s family throughout the night. As soon as he emerged from the operating room, Dr. Montero rushed to deliver the news himself to the family members: Michael was going to be okay.


In the weeks that followed, Michael worked with Mary Weis, an occupational therapist, and Deborah Weaver, a physical therapy assistant, to help him regain his strength, both physically and emotionally.


For now, Michael continues to heal. While anxious to get back behind the wheel, resume his normal gym workouts and work full days at the office, he knows each day is a gift.


“I’d like to see my daughter grow up,” he says, gazing out the window at his daughter. “All the people at Saddleback Medical Center who took care of me are making that possible. I will never take that for granted.”


Diet, exercise and family history are just a few of the factors that influence heart health. But sometimes, with no explanation, the heart and its surrounding vasculature malfunction. It’s important to recognize the warning signs early, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea or light-headedness, and seek medical help right away.


The award-winning comprehensive cardiac care program at Saddleback Medical Center focuses on prevention and screening, and offers diagnostic, treatment and rehabilitation services when patients need it. State-of-the-art technology aids physicians as they perform complex, life-saving procedures for improved outcomes and faster recoveries. Saddleback Medical Center is only one of a few designated cardiac receiving centers in Orange County with emergency treatment times that are one of the lowest in the county and match the top five percent of hospitals in the nation.


For a referral to a leading cardiac specialist, call 1-800-MEMORIAL (1-800-636-6742) or visit our section on Heart and Vascular Care.