Christopher Orris' Story

Chris OrrisChristopher Orris, 37, of Colorado was living a normal, active life when a hidden heart condition suddenly changed everything.

“I began to notice that I was dizzy and short of breath,” said Christopher. “A few months before, I could climb the 224 stairs to the top of a waterfall in Colorado Springs. The last time I took my son, I couldn’t climb two flights.”

In April 2011, he made an appointment with a cardiologist, who thought that Christopher might have a life-threatening condition called pulmonary hypertension. The cardiologist suggested that Christopher see a pulmonologist.

“If that was my diagnosis, I wanted to come to the experts at National Jewish Health,” said Christopher.

A friend recommended National Jewish Health cardiologist Brett E. Fenster, MD, FACC, FACP, and Christopher made an appointment.

Christopher underwent numerous tests including a CT scan and a cardiac catheterization, and Dr. Fenster diagnosed a partial anomalous pulmonary venous return.

It is a rare congenital defect, where the pulmonary veins don’t connect normally to the left atrium. Instead, they are re-directed to the right atrium by way of an abnormal connection. The mixing of oxygen-rich blood from the lungs with oxygen-poor blood from the body in the right atrium reduces the efficiency of the circulatory system.

As in most cases, Christopher’s symptoms didn’t appear until adulthood.

After undergoing open-heart surgery in September 2011, doctors were able to fix the defect by rerouting the blood vessels to the left atrium. He has made a full recovery and has resumed living a normal life.

“If it wasn’t for Dr. Fenster ordering the right tests, I would not have had a good prognosis,” said Christopher. “He saved my life.”