American ‘Heart to Heart’ Month

Gavin Esposito has undergone three open-heart surgeries and three catheterizations in his lifetime. Photo by Elizabeth Coss / The Jambar

By Elizabeth Coss

Every February, the American Heart Association celebrates American Heart Month to raise awareness for heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.

In 2023, Cleveland Clinic was announced as the No. 1 hospital for cardiology, heart and vascular surgery for the 29th year in a row. Giovanni Bruno was a cardiovascular intensive care unit nurse for Cleveland Clinic for more than two years. 

“I love my job,” Bruno said. “A lot of people around here that have heart issues and everything go [to Cleveland Clinic]. They’re No. 1 for a reason. They have all these resources and it’s only an hour away.”

Bruno earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2021 from Youngstown State University. Now, he’s back pursuing a Doctorate in Nurse Anesthesia. 

When he started at Cleveland Clinic, Bruno worked in the ICU alongside patients with COVID-19. The cardiac unit had been redesigned to treat the overwhelming number of patients coming in. Machines commonly used for cardiac patients were used for COVID-19 cases as well.

Bruno said it was a “nightmare” to manage both a patient’s respiratory and cardiac needs during the pandemic. 

“[The pandemic] wasn’t just 2020, it was 2021, 2022 and there’s some people still getting diagnosed with COVID now,” Bruno said. “The problem with COVID is your lungs are basically shot … they would use ECMO and have patients on the ventilator, and ECMO is a cardiac ICU thing. So, that’s why they had to make the [combined] unit because all these cardiac unit devices, that’s something we had to monitor.”

Bruno primarily worked with patients following open-heart surgery, monitoring their condition and ensuring they received the best treatment they could get. He said lifestyle played a big role in common health issues he saw in patients. 

“It’s a lifestyle disease,” Bruno said. “Most of the time, majority of the patients I ever took care of that had to get heart surgery had diabetes [and] it was uncontrolled. They had hypertension, they smoked, their cholesterol levels were through the roof.”

American Heart Month also raises awareness for heart failure, stroke and other heart conditions, including defects.

Gavin Esposito, a junior history major at YSU, was born prematurely and weighed just over two pounds. Doctors soon realized Esposito was born with a congenital heart defect — Tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia — and he underwent open-heart surgery at one month old.

In total, Esposito has undergone three open-heart surgeries and cardiac catheterizations. During his second surgery, doctors had to “crack open” his ribcage to get to his heart and use special handmade tools to operate.

Despite not remembering much about the surgeries, Esposito said his fondest memory is with his mother following his third open-heart surgery at five years old. 

“[The] best memories I have with my mom is her putting me in one of those ‘big people’ wheelchairs and us getting a milkshake down the little cafe they had at the Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital,” Esposito said. “Me just laughing so hard and her laughing, that’s a core memory with her. I don’t know why I remember that so greatly but I just do.”

Esposito said while these surgeries and setbacks happened, he believes no one should be ashamed of overcoming uncontrollable situations. 

“It’s not something to dwell on. Be proud of it. It’s a part of you. It’s a part of your history, and it makes you stronger,” Esposito said. “It makes you, you.”

Every year, Esposito still goes to a doctor for check-ins, and every two years he gets an MRI. 

“I don’t think about it — it does its thing, I do my thing,” Esposito said. “It’s just a part of me like my eye color, my hair color … what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”