Trio of Life-Saving Finds for Complex Medical Patient

If you were to ask any of Mike Calabrese’s doctors, they would agree he has a pretty complex medical case. He credits the doctors at UConn Health for saving his life on three different occasions and most recently fixing an injury to his knee.

Mike Calabrese and his wife

If you were to ask any of Mike Calabrese’s doctors, they would agree he has a pretty complex medical case. He credits the doctors at UConn Health for saving his life on three different occasions and most recently fixing an injury to his knee.

One of the things he loves most about coming to a medical research hospital is the kind and polite students. He credits them for spending time with him and he doesn’t mind having to repeat himself many times to several students because he is helping them learn. Something his doctors also appreciate.

“The service at UConn Health is so good and I like when all the medical students come in and poke me and ask me all kinds of questions,” says Calabrese. “The doctors like the students to come in and see me as well because I’m a complicated case and it helps them learn.”

Calabrese became a patient at the UConn Health Simsbury office around 2015 where he sought out primary care and met with Patty Tracey, APRN who has since retired.

Upon meeting Tracy and discussing his history and medical issues, she suggested he go to the UConn John Dempsey Hospital Emergency Department (ED) as something wasn’t right. She also recommended he be tested for a variety of infectious diseases. One of those tests came back positive and Calabrese was referred to the UConn Health Department of Infectious Diseases where he became a patient of Dr. Mary Snayd, assistant professor of medicine. Snayd diagnosed Calabrese with an infectious disease and provided him with treatment. He has been closely followed by Snayd since and with medication management, within two years his disease is undetectable and well-controlled.

Mike Calabrese and his sons

A few years later in the fall of 2017, Calabrese started noticing bruising on different areas of his body that was not due to any kind of trauma or injury. He again made an appointment with Tracy, and when she saw the extensive bruising, she ordered blood work.

That night while watching the Yankees and Twins game, at around 9:30p.m., he received a call from Tracy telling him that his blood platelet count was critically low, and he had to get to the Emergency Department immediately. She indicated his blood platelets were at 200 and a normal platelet count in adults ranges from 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per microliter of blood. Dangerous internal bleeding can occur when your platelet count falls below 10,000 platelets per microliter.

“Patty told me that if I didn’t get to the emergency room immediately, it could be fatal and I wouldn’t wake up in the morning,” says Calabrese.

He was admitted to the UConn John Dempsey Hospital where he spent four days and received testing and treatment. He was diagnosed with Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia (ITP) and referred to the Hematology/Oncology Department at the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health.

Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) is a blood disorder characterized by an abnormal decrease in the number of platelets in the blood. A decrease in platelets can result in easy bruising, bleeding gums, and internal bleeding. Platelet levels are low with ITP because your immune system’s antibodies attack and destroy platelets if you have this immune disorder.

Calabrese was followed with daily and then weekly blood testing to make sure his platelets were increasing while going through treatment. They have reached a stable level and have stayed stable since.

Jump forward two more years and during the summer of 2019 while on vacation Calabrese noted swelling of his feet and legs. He had edema and as soon as he returned home he immediately reached out for an appointment with Tracy. Tracy introduced him to Dr. Anna Hallemeier, assistant professor of Internal Medicine who would be taking Tracy’s place as she was to retire. They did a blood and urine work up and Calabrese was sent to the ED due to the results.

The ED determined that while his kidney’s weren’t in failure, there was something more that needed to be looked into by the Department of Nephrology. Dr. Lalarukh Haider, assistant professor of medicine, Division of Nephrology at UConn Health and her team performed a biopsy of Calabrese’s kidneys, and it was determined that the cause of his issue was Primary Membranous Nephropathy.

Membranous nephropathy (MN) is a kidney disorder and autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the filtering membranes in the kidney. This can cause protein in the urine, as well as decreased kidney function and swelling.

The nephrology team decided that the best course of action was a course of rituximab infusions which are four-hours long taken four times a month. These infusions improved his kidney function.

“While I may have to have these infusions again in the future, the nephrology team follows me closely to ensure my kidney function stays stable,” says Calabrese “Dr. Haider is always checking up on me and having me come in to do bloodwork,”

“Any of the three medical issues could have killed me, but each time UConn Health saved my life,” says Calabrese. “Now I’m healthy and active and none of these issues prevent me from doing anything.”

In the summer of 2021, Calabrese was having terrible pain in his knee, and was referred by Hallemeier to UConn Orthopedics & Sports Medicine for an MRI. The MRI showed a tear in his meniscus, and he was referred to Dr. Cory Edgar, assistant professor of Orthopedic Surgery at UConn Health who indicated he would need a laparoscopic meniscus repair.

The surgery was scheduled for September, but then there was a setback. Hallemeier performed blood work prior to surgery because he was still on rituximab and his immunoglobulin levels needed to normalize prior to elective surgery. Unfortunately, his levels were abnormal, and it was determined to be too dangerous for him to have surgery.

This same scenario played out when he was rescheduled for surgery in October, Calabrese was anxious to get back to refereeing basketball and football and was having a hard time waiting for the surgery.

“Dr. Edgar was great, he talked me off the cliff, reminding me it was more important I wait and live and be healthy and okay to take a season off of refereeing,” says Calabrese “He just calmly and softly talked me through it and made me realize, yeah it’s more important to wake up from the surgery.”

He was finally cleared for surgery that took place on October 17 and he has had 12 sessions of physical therapy with the Department of Physical Therapy at UConn Health.

“I am pain-free, my knee feels the best it has ever felt and just started refereeing this basketball season,” says Calabrese. “I’m thrilled to be back on the court, and I owe that to Edgar and the physical therapy team.”

While refereeing on the court, he has become a cheerleader off the court for UConn Health and the many doctors, nurses and staff he has met along the way stating that everyone is right on the ball and amazing.

“I have a great deal of respect to those who have helped me, and I owe my life to UConn Health.”