Patient Stories: Ronald Has Time to Enjoy Life

Ronald"I don't have a family history of heart disease but it still happened to me.

Before heart surgery, I ran and rode my bike regularly. I weighed 180 pounds, and my  cholesterol was  low.

I've never smoked and ate fish three times a week. Overall, I was healthy with no signs of heart disease.

In fact, I aced a recent stress test.

Now, at age 57, I'm part of the "zipper club," having had six-way cardiac bypass surgery. Fortunately, I was in good physical condition otherwise, which I guess is why I've done so well after surgery."

My diagnosis

"They told me the survival rate is 99 percent; those are pretty good odds."

That day, I felt numbness in my left arm, and I broke out in a heavy sweat. I felt nauseated and my chest hurt. When they got me into the ambulance at my friend's house, they asked me how I felt on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst  – I told them 10. At Riverside Regional Medical Center, they did some kind of procedure that released the pressure in my chest. Then, they told me I needed bypass surgery.

My experience with Riverside

"Everything was excellent, which is why I think I got out in such short time."

I don't remember much. The EMT's rushed me to Riverside and the tell me that within 22 minutes, cardiologists were doing a heart catheterization. When that didn't completely open  arteries, I was taken into open heart surgery right away.

Following surgery, I was in Riverside Regional Medical Center for only three days. They told me if I could get up and go to the bathroom and walk down the hall, I could go home, so I did.

Everyone at Riverside was wonderful.  Dr. Steven Scott with Riverside did the surgery and everything went just fine.

Thriving right after heart surgery

"I'm trying to like more fruits and vegetables."

I'm single and live alone but a friend stayed with me that first night I got home from the hospital. On the second day, I took care of myself and even walked to my shop next door. My second week after surgery, I was on my treadmill and bike, doing four miles. I've had a couple bad days when I couldn't sleep. We really take sleep for granted. Overall, I feel good and was back to work in four weeks. Six weeks after surgery, I went hunting and shot a big buck.

I've been going to cardiac rehab, learning a lot about a heart-healthy diet and making sure I get plenty of lean protein in my diet.  I'm not a vegetable person, liking mostly tomatoes, cucumbers and spinach. I'm into juicing now, and got apples to make my own apple juice.

After surgery, my weight was 167 to 170 pounds. I'm  five foot, eight inches, and my goal is to maintain my weight at 170 pounds now.

My advice to my sons

"Now we have a family with a history of heart disease."

I have four sons, ages 19-30, who are excellent athletes. I've told them to get checkups, to get their cholesterol checked. They ate the same foods I did up to seven or eight years ago, and they need to make sure they are OK.

In Newport News, Dr. Charles Vaughan first saw Ron in the cardiac cath lab at Riverside Regional Medical Center ...

"Ronald was having a heart attack due to a clot totally occluding (clogging) one of his heart arteries. As a result, there was no blood flow to that wall of the heart leading to progressive muscle cell injury and death. I did an angiogram to take x-ray pictures of the arteries. This revealed that all of his heart arteries had severe blockage. I did a balloon angioplasty to restore flow to  the heart muscle beyond the blockage causing the heart attack to save his heart muscle from ongoing damage. His blockages in the other arteries were so extensive that he had bypass to be sure the areas of his heart unaffected by the heart attack would receive good blood flow."Dr. Vaughan

Then, Dr. Steven Scott, a specialist in adult cardiac and thoracic surgery, took over to do bypass surgery …

"Ronald told us that he had an occasional 'pins and needles' sensation across his chest for one to two months.  A few days before his heart attack, he experienced chest discomfort while jogging.  He had severe pain on the day of the admission and was brought by EMS to the Walter Reed ER, where an ECG identified a "STEMI", or ST-elevation myocardial infarction.  He was airlifted to Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News.  A "STEMI code" was called, which is a protocol to get patients who are having that type of MI (myocardial infarction) to the cardiac catheterization lab as quickly as possible.

In the cardiac cath lab, Dr.  Vaughan performed a diagnostic catheterization which demonstrated an occluded (clogged) right coronary artery.  Dr. Vaughan opened the vessel utilizing a balloon angioplasty technique.  This restored the blood flow in that vessel, relieving the chest discomfort.  If that had been the only lesion (blockage), Dr. Vaughan would have placed a stent in the area as definitive treatment, but injection of the left coronary artery showed significant disease there as well. This meant that coronary bypass surgery was the best treatment.

Ronald went to the operating room, and a six-vessel coronary bypass operation was performed.  His recovery in the hospital was uneventful, and by postoperative day three he had met all the discharge criteria (walking in the hall, tolerating a diet, off oxygen, heart rhythm and vital signs stable, etc.).  He wanted to go home on that day, so he was discharged.  We typically target postoperative day four for going home, and some take longer to recover.  Some people, especially if they are younger and otherwise healthy, are ready to go on the third day after surgery. 

I was impressed that everything fell into place so well for him.  It was like a perfect play in football, with the line keeping their blocking assignments, the receiver being at the right place, and the quarterback making a perfect throw.  The team consisted of the ground EMS, the Walter Reed ED staff, the air transport, the RRMC cath lab and the operating room. 

Getting back to life. Our goal with each operation is to allow people to return at least to their previous level of activity, or often a higher level of activity and function,if their angina or valve disease was limiting them before, for example. I tell people that it takes about eight weeks for them to feel that they have fully recovered, although some are walking up to a mile per day at four weeks after surgery.  The things they have to deal with are usually incisional soreness (probably less than they expect), fatigue (probably more than they expect) and difficulty sleeping.  Dr. Scott, a partner in Riverside Tidewater Thoracic and Cardiovascular


 

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