Ben Dandrow: Cardiac Catheterization & Open-Heart Surgery

“Unlike most Baby Boomers, I wasn’t taking a single prescription medication. I felt like I could catch bullets in my teeth.”

Ben Dandrow used to think of himself as “Ben the Bull.” In his early 60s, Ben was a fit and active aerobic walker. “Unlike most Baby Boomers, I wasn’t taking a single prescription medication. I felt like I could catch bullets in my teeth,” he said. When Ben learned he needed open-heart surgery, he was shocked and devastated. Now that the surgery is behind him, Ben is healthy and back in action, “and I have a whole new perspective on life,” he said. “I won’t say bypass surgery is easy, but if you have to have it, there is no better place than Allegiance Health.”

“I won’t say bypass surgery is easy, but if you have to have it, there is no better place than Allegiance Health.”

Ben Dandrow, cardiac catheterization & open-heart surgery patient

Ben lives on an acre of land, and he was the only one in is neighborhood who cut his lawn with a walking mower. “The lot is on an incline, so between that and 2-3 miles of aerobic walking several times a week, I thought I was pretty fit,” he said.

Ben had experienced a couple of instances of chest pain, but it didn’t come frequently or last long, so he thought it was indigestion. “I would just work right through it, and the pain would go away,” he recalled. Then, he attended an Allegiance Health Fair and took advantage of a free vascular screening. The results showed Ben had moderate-to-severe blockages in his carotid arteries, the two main arteries on either side of the neck. “I was advised to follow-up with a doctor and, because I was afraid of having a stroke, I made an appointment with my general practitioner, Matthew Moore, MD, for later in the week,” he said.

Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) was a few days before his appointment, and Ben indulged in a few pazckis — the jelly donuts traditionally associated with that holiday. When he started feeling ill, he chalked it up to indigestion. “But, suddenly I was dizzy and the room was spinning,” he said. “I couldn’t dial 9-1-1 if I’d wanted to. Then, in about 15 minutes, I felt better.”

Ben followed up with his doctor and a specialist, and further tests confirmed carotid artery blockages.“I knew I would eventually have to do something about it, but I still wasn’t in a hurry,” Ben said.

That summer, Ben had a few episodes of sharp pain at the sides of his chest while doing his aerobic walking, but these did not last long and, again, he “worked through it.”  He had one more episode of chest pain while pushing the mower up the incline. “I came in the house and told my wife, ‘I am in trouble,’ but then the pain disappeared,”Ben said.

Dr. Moore, however, did not take the chest pain lightly. He ordered a stress test at Allegiance Health, and Ben was unable to complete it. Ben followed up with a cardiac catheterization, which is a test to identify blocked arteries that decrease circulation to and from the heart. That test revealed a significant blockage in a main artery known as “the widow maker.” Ben was told that he was not a candidate for angioplasty (a procedure to open the blockage and restore circulation.) He needed to have open-heart surgery.

“I had worked in the steel industry, and I’d been a volunteer firefighter, but none of those risks scared me like the thought of having open-heart surgery,” Ben said. “I was worried for my life, and it was very humbling.”

Ben consulted with cardiothoracic surgeons Mahender Macha, MD, and Vincent Simonetti, MD, the medical directors for Allegiance Health’s open-heart surgery program. The surgeons explained that because of Ben’s carotid artery blockages, he was at increased risk for a stroke during open-heart surgery. “I was very impressed with their knowledge, and I felt comforted by their confidence and their University of Michigan lab coats, but I still wanted to do some research and explore other options,” Ben said.

By this time, Ben was having pain with very little exertion and he was concerned about his stroke risk. “When I did my research, much to my delight, I found that Allegiance Health takes a backseat to no one in Michigan when it comes to open-heart surgery outcomes. Both surgeons also scored very well in the national ratings.”

“When I did my research, much to my delight, I found that Allegiance Health takes a backseat to no one in Michigan when it comes to open-heart surgery outcomes."

Ben Dandrow

Ben’s confidence in Allegiance Health was further boosted by a colleague of his wife’s, who had undergone successful open-heart surgery there and was willing to talk with Ben about it. “Coach Ken Dillon told me he had chosen Allegiance, not because of the convenience of being close to home, but because of the quality of care he knew he would receive. And he hadn’t been disappointed. Ken was extremely reassuring and, as it turned out, he was at the hospital to show his support when I arrived for surgery at 5:30 a.m. It meant so much to me that this man who basically didn’t know me was there for me nonetheless.”

Ben’s surgery was a success, and he was pleased with the level of personal attention he received from the surgeons and staff. “I really can’t say enough about the outstanding care I received at Allegiance Health,” he said. ”Everyone kept a watchful eye on me, and both surgeons came to visit me often, which I believe is very unusual at a busy heart center.”

As a seasoned aerobic walker, Ben was shocked at how difficult it was to take his first steps after surgery. “Those had to be the longest and most painful four steps of my life,” he said. “I will never forget that.” Ben’s general physical condition served him well during his physical therapy and recovery. “I guess all the hard work paid off after all,” he said.

Ben was one of a low percentage of open-heart patients who experience arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, following surgery and have to be readmitted to the hospital. “But even that experience was fantastic,” Ben said. “Dr. Simonetti and one of the CUB nurses met me in the Emergency Department. Everyone there remembered me and treated me like I was back home again. Fortunately, the arrhythmia was able to be treated by medication, and I was home again in no time.”

Since then, Ben has been building his strength through physical exercise and has made healthy changes to his diet. “The Allegiance Cardiac Rehabilitation program has been a tremendous help,” he said, “not only for the monitored physical activity, but also for the tremendous information I have received regarding nutrition.” Ben is now in the voluntary Phase III of the program and continues to work out at the Allegiance Wellness Center at least three days a week.

Ben said that since he moved to Jackson 18 years ago, he has witnessed “a tremendous transformation in the health system. I have been impressed with the growth, the variety of specialists and the quality of care I have seen. Allegiance is as good as anyone in Michigan, including the large hospitals. Most community members don’t realize what a gem of a hospital we have here. But I am doing my best to spread the word to everyone I know.”


Severe chest pain is not always present with a heart attack, especially for older adults, people with diabetes and women. They may experience sudden shortness of breath, coughing, dizziness, fatigue or weakness. Don’t take a chance. Call 9-1-1.