A funny thing happened while recovering from heart surgery

While recuperating from coronary artery bypass graft surgery, Sara Cognetta sought comfort in her electric reclining chair. Thanks to her dog, Holly, she escaped a malfunction and an awkward situation.

Sara Cognetta understood the recovery process of having open-heart surgery. She even purchased an electric reclining chair to provide comfort while she rested.

But after Frank Rosell, MD, director of cardiothoracic surgery at Staten Island University Hospital, performed the coronary artery bypass graft procedure and replaced a valve in her heart, she faced an unimaginable situation.

Alone at home, she maneuvered the chair in a position suitable to lie down. Somehow, it unplugged.

Stranded and too weak to move, Ms. Cognetta contemplated her escape. The phone was too far away. She wondered if a family member or friend would stop by.

Her only lifeline — her black labrador retriever, Holly.

“I said, ‘Holly, get mommy the phone,’” she said. “I never trained her to do that, but she was the only one that could help. Before I knew it, the phone was on my lap.”

Those who own pets, including dogs, know they have an innate ability to understand situations. Holly’s shone through in this instance.

“Thank God the dog understood me. I would have been stuck there until someone came home,” Ms. Cognetta said. “Holly’s amazing. She alerts me if the phone rings, or if anything drops on the floor. If I dropped my therapy pillow, she would run over to pick it up for me. If she can pick it up, she will get it.”

Holly's arrival

Eight years ago, Ms. Cognetta’s husband, Robert [Bob], died from congenital heart disease. Before he passed, he wanted her to have a companion, insisting that she get a dog. 

Holly was her solution and the two have been inseparable since.

For years, Ms. Cognetta and Holly were together like barbecues and Memorial Day. And Holly was her companion through her most vulnerable time.

Aortic stenosis and a faulty heart valve

In 2016, Ms. Cognetta had difficulty breathing, even while performing daily tasks such as walking with Holly. She visited her cardiologist, Roman Royzman, MD, and an angiogram discovered that she had aortic stenosis (hardening of the heart valve). She needed the valve replaced.

She also had a critical blockage in the main artery of her heart and needed coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). Dr. Rosell fixed both issues during one procedure.

“He explained to me what they found, and for some reason, I wasn’t afraid,” Ms. Cognetta said. “When it came time to go into the OR, I was calm. I had total confidence.”

Watching over her

Ms. Cognetta says she has angels around every corner. She praises Drs. Rosell and Royzman for saving her life. And if it weren’t for Holly, she might still be in the reclining chair.

“I’m blessed to have so many lifesavers,” Ms. Cognetta said. “First, Dr. Roselle for giving me a second chance at life, and Holly for saving me that day.”

The Heart Institute at Staten Island University Hospital provides personalized cardiovascular care.