From performing life-saving medical procedures to providing much-needed support, metro Atlanta physicians are changing lives daily. With their passion for patient care and talent within their fields, these medical professionals are dedicated to keeping you and your loved ones healthy and safe.
Hitting the Reset Button, Northside Hospital
Cheryl MacMillan got winded just walking up the hill near her house. She didn’t have enough energy to play with her grandkids. Her doctor had put her on blood pressure medication, and she had an elevated body mass index, or BMI. Cheryl knew she had to lose weight—and her husband, Doug, knew he needed to as well.
“We are getting older, and we still want to be healthy and have a good quality of life,” says the 56-year-old director of nursing and patient care at Northside Hospital Duluth. With her healthcare background, Cheryl was aware that excess fat is linked to severe medical problems, from heart failure to stroke to certain cancers. That’s why in April, she and Doug, 57, signed up for the medical weight loss program at Northside Hospital Duluth’s Center for Weight Management.
According to Dr. Neelima Dachuri, the program’s director, patients like Cheryl—those who have an elevated BMI, especially when combined with other health conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, or sleep apnea—qualify for the medical weight loss program. Many patients can choose a low-calorie diet plan—sometimes as low as 800 calories per day. But patients with an extremely high BMI and at least one additional health condition are candidates for bariatric surgery.
The very low-calorie diet was the best option for Cheryl and Doug. For six weeks they lived on meal replacements like shakes, soups, and puddings in different flavors. “It went by fast and I really didn’t feel hungry,” says Cheryl.
After the initial six weeks, the couple slowly reintroduced real food into their diets. Now they’re on the maintenance program, which lasts for a year. Throughout the program, patients attend classes held by psychologists, dieticians, and fitness experts to help keep them on track and give them the support they need. “Sustainable weight loss is a comprehensive project,” Dachuri explains. “The main components are diet, exercise, sleep, and water intake.”
Cheryl lost 38 pounds, and Doug reduced his body fat to 18 percent, which is considered an ideal number. “They both had amazing results,” Dachuri said. “They were committed and followed the program to the core.”
And they got rewarded for it. “I used to snore a lot,” says Doug, “and my wife says I don’t anymore.” Also, his migraine headaches have become less frequent, and Cheryl has been able to come off her blood pressure medication. She started doing yoga. Most importantly, she can now easily walk up the nearby hill and has plenty of energy to keep up with her grandkids. “And it’s nice that I can wear pretty much anything I want because it fits.”
The MacMillans are enjoying a whole new way of life and they still get to enjoy many of the foods they love—they’ve just learned to do it differently. They often share a meal or opt for salads, vegetables, or lean meat. But once in a while, they indulge in a nice burger and fries. “I may just eat part of the bun and only a few fries,” says Cheryl, “But I’m happy with it because the program helped me reset my brain.”
Close to the Heart, WellStar Health System
The year 2018 was one that the Chorneys would rather erase from their memories.
“It was a year from hell,” says Mellanie Chorney. It was the year when her husband almost died from heart failure.
In March 2018, Tom Chorney—a former Army Ranger, who works as an insurance agent and coaches lacrosse in his free time—fell ill after refereeing a high school game. He went to the emergency room, and a few days later had a triple bypass and mitral valve repair at WellStar Kennestone Hospital.
The surgery went well, but then Tom developed a persistent irregular heart rhythm. He was in and out of the hospital for weeks. In July, he was readmitted, this time in cardiogenic shock—a life-threatening condition “where the heart is so weak that it can’t pump enough blood to the vital organs,” explains Dr. Salvatore Mannino, an interventional cardiologist in the WellStar Hospital System. Tom had a slim chance of survival. “He was in very poor shape. His organs started to fail. We needed to act quickly,” Mannino recalls.
To save his patient’s life, the physician decided to implant an Impella device—the world’s smallest heart pump. It temporarily takes over for the heart and pumps blood through the body, allowing the weakened heart to recover. The device is typically put in through the groin, but in Tom’s case it was implanted through the arm, giving him the chance to mobilize. Tom became the first patient at WellStar to walk around the hospital ward with an Impella. The device stayed in his body for 21 days.
“Tom had a tremendously positive attitude,” recalls Mannino, who oversees the Impella program at WellStar and—just like his patient— is originally from Brooklyn, New York. “He was optimistic, upbeat, and extremely motivated.”
Mellanie Chorney was by her husband’s side every step of the way. “I just couldn’t let myself think he was going to die,” she says. Tom was determined to live—especially for Mellanie and for their daughter, Emma, who is working toward a master’s in kinesiology at Boise State University.
The Impella device saved Tom’s life, says Mannino. He added that treating patients in cardiogenic shock takes a collaborative effort across multiple disciplines. Tom is grateful to his WellStar care team, including cardiac surgeons Dr. Theresa Luu and Dr. Richard Myung; critical care cardiologist Dr. Rajnish Prasad; and heart failure specialist Dr. Brian Howard, as well as highly skilled nurses and cardiac rehab specialists. Dr. Mannino, his fellow Brooklynite, “will always have a special place in my heart,” says Tom with a smile. “Very literally.”
Today, a year later, Tom is focused on his recovery. He has regained most of the 60 pounds that he lost in the hospital. He goes to cardiac rehab several times a week, hits the gym every morning, and looks forward to returning to work. His medical journey changed his outlook on life. “I’m more relaxed and more patient than I used to be,” he says. “Because tomorrow is another day, and I do know I have another day.”