Facing Open Heart Surgery with Confidence

Craig_FalkenthalBy Craig Falkenthal

Knowing my family history with heart disease allowed me to take control of my health. At my annual physical two years ago, I told my doctor about my 81-year-old mother’s recent aortic valve replacement. I explained that she had a congenital aortic bicuspid valve, and I have aunts and uncles who had mitral valve prolapse issues. I already knew I had a heart murmur, but my doctor suggested that I see a cardiologist to rule out any additional issues, given my family history.

I am an extremely healthy guy with a lot of energy. I had worked for the same employer for 23 years and never took a sick day. So I wasn’t too worried about getting checked out.

However, an echocardiogram showed that I had a congenital bicuspid aortic valve, just like my mother. It was a complete shock, especially because I felt terrific. My local cardiologist said that mine had progressed into aortic stenosis, where my aortic valve was not fully opening and was decreasing blood flow from my heart. She told me that open heart surgery was a matter of when not if.

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Bob’s Story: Chest Pain Was Like a ‘Sledgehammer’

As Bob was climbing a hill last summer, a severe pain in his chest brought him to his knees.

“It was like being hit with a sledgehammer,” the 67-year-old retired construction equipment operator says.

Bob had a history of high blood pressure. He also had occasional recurring chest pain and shortness of breath that was brought on by activity and relieved by rest. But now, the pain was intense and it scared him. His wife Arline insisted he see his primary care doctor who referred him to a cardiologist. Bob was not satisfied when he learned that the process of testing and getting results could take weeks. “I’m in pain and I need help right now,” Bob told her.

By searching on the Internet, Arline found a link to the Rush Outpatient Chest Pain Center where patients can come in, have a thorough evaluation completed in the morning and then meet with the doctor and get results by the afternoon. “What impressed me the most is you go in there and it’s all done in one day so I called and made an appointment,” Bob says.

At his Monday morning appointment, Bob first met with interventional cardiologist Gary Schaer, MD. He then had a complete work-up, including a treadmill stress echocardiogram to evaluate his heart and valve function at rest and with exertion, which yielded problematic results. Schaer discussed these results with Bob and told him that they needed to perform cardiac catheterization, a procedure to examine blood flow to his heart and test how well his heart was pumping. Bob was scheduled to have the procedure the following day.

Find out more about Bob’s Story at RushStories.org.

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