Health Care

Bolingbrook Staff Celebrates Miracle Patient

Aaron Cengiz with his wife Tami.

“Miracle Patient” Aaron Cengiz with Cardiac Services Manager Elizabeth Kraft, RN. Aaron is back to running and cycling after suffering a pulmonary embolism that caused his heart to stop multiple times in July 2022.

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The term “medical miracle” is sometimes used to describe any situation in which the patient’s outcome was better than expected. But 42-year-old Aaron Cengiz and the medical staff at UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Bolingbrook believe that Aaron is alive today because of a real miracle.

Aaron, his wife and six children had just moved to Bolingbrook when he rolled his ankle while on a run with his dog in late June 2022. A few weeks later, he was still hobbling but getting better. By mid-July, he thought he might have COVID-19 because of his constant cough. At the same time, he began experiencing severe pain in the back of his knee, which hindered his mobility. He arranged for a COVID test on Friday, July 22.

He felt dizzy and lightheaded as he drove from work in the South Loop to the pharmacy. As he went into the store, he began to have trouble breathing. “It was like trying to suck air through a straw,” he said. He called his wife, but his breathing worsened, and he called 911. When he heard the sirens approaching, he prayed that they were for him.

Tami arrived as Aaron was being loaded into the ambulance, and she followed him to the hospital's emergency department. At first, his oxygen levels were rising slightly. But then he had another coughing fit, and they began to drop. At one point, his oxygen level was only 79% despite being on 100% oxygen.

“My breathing got worse, and I thought: ‘This is it. I am going to die here,’” Aaron said. At that point, the staff sedated him, which is all he remembers for a long time.

Aaron’s lungs were full of blood clots that had developed after his ankle injury, and the clots were causing a massive pulmonary embolism. He was taken to the Interventional Radiology Lab, where Dr. George Behrens used the Inari device, a relatively new treatment for clots. The machine removes the clots from the bloodstream, and the blood is filtered and returned to the patient. The device successfully removed the clots, but Aaron’s heart stopped twice during the procedure.

“There was significant improvement with no more clots present. But his heart had just had enough,” said Cardiac Services Manager Elizabeth Kraft,RN.

After the procedure, Aaron was moved to the intensive care unit (ICU) for monitoring. There were more setbacks as Aaron’s body fought. The doctors spoke with Tami and explained that Aaron’s heart was failing and that even if he survived, he might suffer permanent brain damage as his brain had been deprived of oxygen.

They asked if she wanted to authorize a do not resuscitate order if his heart stopped again, but she declined. She sat with Aaron, holding his hand, while the medical staff realized they had done all they could.

“We were not hopeful he would recover,” said internal medicine physician Dr. Ali Bawamia.

Aaron coded again in the ICU.

When the medical staffers who had worked with him on Friday night checked on him Saturday morning, they feared the worst.

“I walked through the lab doors to go home Friday as they were announcing another code blue. I thought: ‘That’s it, he’s gone. His heart can’t do it anymore,’” Kraft said.

But staff found that not only had Aaron survived, he had improved considerably.

“He had started to improve, so we became hopeful,” Dr. Bawamia said. “I was very emotional. It is one of those cases I cannot forget. As human beings, we do the best we can. But sometimes it takes intervention from above.”

Aaron’s progress continued. He woke up on Sunday evening, and he was taken off the ventilator on Monday morning. Amazingly, he continued to recover and has had no long-term issues due to his experience. He went home a week later.

“Sometimes in healthcare, especially these days, we need a miracle to keep us going, to remind us why we do what we do,” Kraft said. “This man walked out of the building because of our amazing work as a team and by the grace of God!”

Aaron also believes his recovery was miraculous. “I felt like God had used these professionals as instruments in His hands to perform this miracle,” he said.

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