How Michele Hemstreet Took a Flight of Faith

Michele Hemstreet and her family are used to moving around. Having a husband whose job allowed them to live abroad and in several different states taught Michele and her family how important it is to establish roots and embrace each new beginning. Making friends and developing a comfortable community were the family’s typical first steps, but in 2013, the move from Illinois to North Carolina had Michele searching for something completely different.

In 1986, at the age of 26, Michele was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After the cancerous mass was removed, the doctors began radiation.

“They radiated the area where the mass had been in case it spread,” says Michele about her cancer treatment. For almost 30 years after her diagnosis and treatment, Michele led a normal, healthy life.

However, in 2012, when visiting her doctor for a routine appointment, he recommended Michele take a standard healthy heart scan. Unexpected to both of them, the results revealed her heart was affected by moderately severe aortic stenosis.

Michele’s doctors confirmed the condition of her heart was due to the radiation she had experienced nearly 30 years prior. After having a stent put in by her trusted team of physicians in Illinois, her impending move to North Carolina had her searching for a new doctor, as she knew the stent was only a temporary fix.

“I wanted to find someone who specialized in radiated tissue,” says Michele, knowing that her request was very specific.

Michele was able to find a doctor with that exact area of expertise—Dr. Juan Carlos Plana at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center. Michele met with him a few times before he moved to Baylor St. Luke’s in Houston, and though that was nowhere near her new address in North Carolina, she took the flight of faith to continue seeing him.

“Sometimes you just know,” says Michele, when thinking back to her initial visit. “Although I could have opted to see another doctor in Cleveland, Dr. Plana’s expertise in the area of radiation-induced heart disease made the decision to follow him to Houston obvious.”

In 2017, after battling breast cancer alongside her heart condition, Dr. Plana worked with Baylor St. Luke’s team of cardiac specialists to ensure a successful aortic valve replacement.

“I am convinced it is because of my doctor’s meticulous nature and forethought that I am even here today,” says Michele.

Prior to her surgery, Michele’s symptoms had become more complicated, which made her visits to Baylor St. Luke’s more frequent. “One of the reasons we come back to Baylor St. Luke’s is they know how to deal with situations that aren’t local,” says Michele. “When you’re coming from out of town, you don’t want to worry about any of that.”

Now, Michele and her husband are retired and settled in their home in North Carolina. And although each appointment requires a flight to Texas, the confidence Michele has in Dr. Plana and the team at Baylor St. Luke’s makes it all worth it.