Fighting for the only solution

Micah FisherOver his short lifetime, the patient had burned a lot of bridges. Most family and friends had written him off long ago. When Micah Fisher, medical director of Emory University Hospital's Pulmonary Hypertension Program, met him, he saw a life he knew how to save.

Emory University Hospital

When 38-year-old Frank Caldwell arrived at Emory University Hospital's emergency room, he could barely remain conscious.

Pulmonologist Micah Fisher quickly diagnosed chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension. Clots had formed in the arteries of Caldwell's lungs, restricting blood flow and causing the blood pressure in his lungs to increase and the right side of his heart to fail.

His rare condition was potentially curable, but only a handful of hospitals in the country—none in Georgia—offered the difficult, high-risk surgery he needed to survive. While the pulmonary hypertension clinical team worked to get him well enough to travel, the social services team worked to get him approved for Georgia Medicaid—and for Georgia Medicaid to approve his treatment at an out-of-state hospital. In the meantime, he remained at Emory University Hospital for more than five months.

The complex surgery was successful, but recovery would be long. Caldwell remained within the Emory Healthcare system for an additional eight weeks at Budd Terrace, an Emory Healthcare skilled nursing facility for mostly elderly patients. There, Caldwell thrived. He became a regular at bingo and sing-alongs. No longer dependent on oxygen, he had new energy and was noticeably cheered. He repeatedly thanked his medical team for saving his life—and for their kindnesses. He re-established contact with a sister and an estranged daughter, who barely recognized the smiling man.

Social worker Marisa Graziano says, "He was an M&M with a hard shell and soft center, and he won our hearts." But her biggest admiration is for Fisher and fellow pulmonologist Aaron Trammel. "Other people might have written Mr. Caldwell off," she says. "A lot of people did. But Dr. Fisher, Dr. Trammel, and the pulmonary hypertension team advocated for him at every point. They saved his life and sent him back into the world a healthier, happier man."