WORCESTER, Mass. — It's been 18 years and thousands of miles, but that's not enough to break the bond between patient and surgeon.
At the age of 3, Katy Drennan needed to undergo a delicate surgery for a life threatening condition - middle aortic syndrome. It's a rare heart condition, with only a few hundred known cases in the U.S., that forms before a baby is even born. If it's not fixed, it will impact other organs, causing hypertension and death before 35 or 40.
It's not an easy surgery and many doctors are not willing to take on the challenge, and the risk.
"A lot of the surgeons we talked to in California weren't really comfortable doing it," said Katy.
Katy, now 21, lives near San Jose, not far from where Dr. Louis Messina used to practice. He performed the operation necessary for her condition at age 3, but it wasn’t meant to be a permanent fix. She was supposed to have surgery again at 12 or 13, but she hasn't needed it until now.
Dr. Messina now works at UMass Medical in Worcester. And even though he lives across the country, there is only one doctor Katy’s family trusted to perform it.
"Her coming back like this...My first reaction? This is one of the incredible privileges of being a physician or surgeon who can help someone with a life-threatening condition," said Messina.
The distance and the time was not enough for either Messina or Katy's family to forget the bond they had with each other.
"My mom already knew that Dr. Messina did such a good job when I was younger, and it lasted me 18 years, that she trusted him to do it again. And I trusted him to do it again," she said.
Dr. Messina holds that trust in high regard.
"I think it also shows the potential for how close a bond between a family and their surgeon (can be)," he said.
So Katy went had another risky surgery with Messina, and now, she won't need anymore.
"I'll just always be grateful that he was able to do it and fix it again," she said.
The 21-year-old is heading back to California Wednesday.