Off the Air and Into the O.R.

Heart surgery took him off Channel 955 for a few weeks, but Detroit radio personality Mojo in the Morning kept making friends and using human connection to get through it.

5:24 PM

Author | Haley Otman

Detroit radio personality Mojo in the Morning thought he might skip his annual cardiology visit in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He'd been getting his ascending aortic aneurysm monitored for years and hadn't had to worry about it so far.

But it was a good thing he decided to go ahead and keep the appointment, because it turned out this was the year the aneurysm had grown enough that it needed to be addressed.

"When I found out that I needed to have surgery it was kind of a shocker for me... it was a pretty emotional time," he remembers.

Now, in addition to leading a successful morning radio show, parenting his three sons and trying to keep his family safe and healthy during a global pandemic, he had to start planning for heart surgery. Mojo and his wife Chelsea started calling hospitals around the nation and asking people they knew for recommendations.

"The hospital they kept coming back to was University of Michigan, and specifically Dr. Patel," he remembers. "Even the doctors at some of the other places that I was looking at possibly going to were the ones that were recommending Dr. Patel."

So he scheduled a mid-January surgery with Himanshu Patel, M.D., the head of adult cardiac surgery at the Michigan Medicine Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

"It was important to prevent the large aneurysm from rupturing, and we also were able to spare the valve," Patel says. He says this type of valve-sparing procedure is only available at some high-volume specialized aortic centers like the Frankel CVC, whose comprehensive aortic program consolidates current aortic disease clinical practice, training, and research. The program, made possible by an anonymous donation, aims to transform Michigan Medicine's highly reputable multi-disciplinary aortic program into one that is world-renowned.

Before and after his surgery, Mojo and his family had to quarantine to stay safe from COVID-19. He told his Mojo in the Morning listeners he'd be off the air for a few weeks, and kept the community updated with social media posts.

SEE ALSO: Observe or Operate? When an Enlarged Aorta Requires Action

"One of the hardest parts of having the surgery was being away from work, because I really love working, I thrive off of doing the show," he says.

Their big radio family was there for his own family the entire time, though.

"The amount of people who said they were praying for him, and for Dr. Patel, and the staff… we have a faith, and so, for me, it was comforting… to know that so many people cared," his wife Chelsea remembers. "There are a lot of ups to his profession and that definitely was huge for us, for me personally, that day."

Mojo's surgery at Michigan Medicine

The surgery would take nine hours. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, his family couldn't sit by his bed as he recovered.

"Not having Chelsea there was emotionally really tough."

He says one of his best-worst moments came when his back was hurting really bad after lying on it for so long during after surgery. His nurse, Tiffany Ramos Minton, grabbed a colleague and together they helped him figure out a better position and gave him some more comfort with massage.

"It made me realize this respect I had for a profession that I thought highly of before but I think even higher of now," he says. "They're like unsung heroes."

At first, he was too exhausted for FaceTiming or phone calls, so Ramos Minton was also running messages back and forth to Chelsea out in the lobby for him.

But eventually he got some energy back and started missing those daily hours of chatting with his co-hosts and listeners that he was used to.

"I'm a talker," he admits. "Day five is really when I was a little bit more talkative, and people [were] coming in, knocking on the door to change the garbage can bags, and I just wanted to see people and talk to them, and they were the friendliest people. I'm blown away at the staff."

He also made friends with Elise Hackney, who works at the valet station. It was Hackney who first welcomed them to the Frankel CVC for his surgery, and later buckled his seatbelt for him when they were heading home to continue recovering and resting.

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"I saw her on my follow-up appointment… and I literally said to her, 'you made a difference, you made such a difference in my being able to recover from the surgery'," he says. "I've been to a lot of hospitals for different things, visiting family or listeners… I've never experienced something as special as I experienced going through this at U of M."

Looking forward after heart surgery

Patel says, "he will need to be followed life long, to make sure he does not develop aneurysms in other locations, and to follow his valve repair."

For now, Mojo's been attending cardiac rehab to learn how to safely push himself with exercise and make healthy lifestyle adjustments. In the first few weeks, though, he says he kept Mary Passow, R.N., B.S.N., who works closely with Patel, quite busy, too.

"You get so worried that when you feel something or something goes on that maybe it's not something you should be feeling, or it's a warning sign, and to hear her say, 'No, that's normal, everything's good, you're OK, try this,' and then you do it, and it works, it gives you the comfort…" to keep going, he says.

Mojo's new cardiologist, Devraj Sukul, M.D., says cardiac rehab is critical to his overall health and recovery from surgery.

"Our shared goal for him is to try to maintain the highest level of cardiovascular health to prevent things like heart attacks and strokes, but also to avoid future surgeries as best we can," Sukul says.

SEE ALSO: Debunking Cardiac Rehab Myths: Why Some Patients Don't Go (and Why They Should)

And the entire family is on board with logging more steps, cooking at home more often and alleviating stress.

"I think about that first night in the hospital and that's my deterrent to never have this happen again," Mojo says. "I missed my family so much."

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More Articles About: Heart Health Cardiovascular: Diseases & Conditions Cardiovascular: Treatment & Surgery Cardiovascular: Diagnostics & Procedures
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Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

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