Posted by David Hayford on Dec 15, 2017

Fellow Club member John Fuller has offered to share some health news/information with us from time to time. This week Club member David Hayford provides us with a detailed report about his recent open-heart surgery and recovery:


I had my heart repaired on November 13, 2017. Open-heart bypass surgery. The official description is: “Cardiac bypass surgery (CABG) mitral valve repair and maze procedure to reduce A-Fib episodes.”
I feel a need to relate my story.
It started in March, 2016, after the first of four eye surgeries I underwent that year -- cataract surgery on my left eye. As I was being wheeled to the recovery area, the anesthesiologist informed my wife, Paula, that I had experienced Atrial Fibrillation (irregular heartbeat, “A-Fib”) during the procedure. Not sure when it started. The last surgery, and anesthesiology, prior to that was in 2005.
That news prompted a trip to the cardiologist, and a prescription for Eliquis. But, other than that, life proceeded as normal. For about a year, until March, 2017. My exercise routine, such as it is, consists of walking 5 miles per day, per my Garmin  -- usually three walks with our dog, Rufus. One March morning during our walk, I experienced shortness of breath. I was not gasping for breath, but just did not feel quite right. I also experienced discomfort in my throat. But more about that later.
I explained the shortness of breath to Paula when Rufus and I got back home. She became concerned because it bothered me enough to mention it to her. So she drove me to the Emergency Room. Had basic heart tests done, and ultrasound for blood clots in my legs.
Conclusion. No heart attack, nor blood clots. It was an A-Fib incident in which my heart rate slowed down much more than normal. We went home with instructions to see the Cardiologist.
On March 9, I had my initial appointment with Cardiologist Dr. G. Reiser, whom Paula has been seeing. Dr. Reiser is a strong believer in “face time” with patients. Many questions about lifestyle. He ordered a “Holter Monitor” for me for 2 days, and an EKG before my next appointment on April 5. Results at that appointment showed I was in “A-Fib” the entire time I wore the monitor. But the EKG showed the heart muscle to be strong. So we proceeded with the fact that my A-Fib was “under control” with medications.
In June and July, I started experiencing a loss of energy. It proved a struggle to walk even just a mile with Rufus. Paula commented that my gait had become a “slow shuffle.” The pain in the throat returned, forcing me to stop and rest during walks, or turn around and head home. Something was wrong.
I returned for a visit to Dr. Reiser on August 2, hoping for answers – and a solution. We tried the holter monitor again the next week, with the same results. And an electrocardiogram (EKG) and stress test. Again, they indicated strong heart muscle. During this visit I mentioned the throat issue to him for the first time.
Truthfully, I never considered the possibility of any correlation between the throat pain and heart issues. I had always heard warnings about chest pains, the sensation of an elephant sitting on your chest, or tingling in the arms, dizziness and fainting. I guess I mentioned it that day in desperation. Dr. Reiser reacted to, and expressed concern, about my revelation, though did not reveal more.
He had referred me to an Electro-Physiologist, who had scheduled 2 more procedures for October 3rd, including cardiac conversion to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm. Dr. Reiser told me to report back to him about the throat pain three weeks after, which I did.
Then things heated up in November. On Wednesday, Nov. 1st, I had an appointment with Dr. Reiser. As soon as I told him I was still experiencing the pain in the throat, he ordered a Cardiac Catherization for Monday, November 6. Dr. Reiser informed the procedure would produce one of three results:
  1. Cath would show the heart is fine, and I will be home Monday night;
  2. Shows minor damage, which he will fix by inserting stents. One night stay at hospital;
  3. More serious damage leading to referral to cardiac surgeon Dr. Z. Abouzelam at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.
The results were returned. I had an appointment with Dr. Abouzelam in Appleton the next day. Paula went along. We met with one of his nurses, Kelsey, and soon had an appointment for open-heart surgery for Monday, November 13, at 5:15 AM. We also met with Erin, a cardiac nurse practitioner. Both of these ladies made us feel comfortable and confident.
Dr. Abouselam then met with us to explain the procedure, most of which I did not understand. He stated that odds of stroke or worse resulting from the procedure were “less than 5%.” Numbers I understand. Those are good odds for me.
We left with the realization that I faced major surgery in less than a week, but with the confidence it would greatly improve my life after the recovery period. Preparations began. An appointment for vein mapping on Wednesday, to determine that I possessed veins in my legs that could be used. St. Elizabeth Hospital held a 2 ½ pre-op session for me Friday morning, with all departments explaining what I could expect.
We had a normal weekend. Watched Grandson Cullen’s hockey on Saturday, followed by a free lunch for me on for Veterans’ Day. Family over for usual Sunday lunch, and watching Cullen and brother Declan take horseback riding lessons later that afternoon.
Monday, November 13th, we report to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital at 5:15 AM. I remember some prep work, but nothing after that. I am told the surgery took 6 hours, longer than expected. My daughter Erica took a picture of me after surgery – not sure I want to see it. Nor do I remember a thing about Tuesday.
Wednesday was a bad day. I did not demonstrate the progress expected. Nurses Amy and Kyle were stuck with me. I had an oxygen tube in my nose, one which wound around my ears. It was uncomfortable, so I kept taking it out. Kyle would chastise me, and replace it. Finally, they had to put large gauze “boxing gloves” on my hands to prevent that.
They quizzed me about where I was, and why. All I could answer was “Appleton.”
They fed me something, which I upchucked onto my hospital gown instead of the container. Amy happened to stick her hand in it.
They advised Paula not to bother making the drive up from Oshkosh that evening. Though Erica and son Brian stopped for a visit. I saw them and acknowledged their presence. But no more.
Thursday. Paula came up at about 9 to check in on me. I was awake, alert, looking almost normal. She was rather surprised after last night’s report. Amy and Kyle were my nurses again. I answered their questions: “I am in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. I had open-heart surgery on Monday, Npvember13th.” We had a much better day.
And the healing process forged ahead. I had numerous suction drainage tubes and IVs sending various fluids into my body to stabilize vital signs. Any move from bed to recliner to toilet required hooking and unhooking.
This surgery requires a lot of work from patients to enhance the healing process. There are breathing exercises to prevent[HD(J1]  fluids from settling in the lungs inducing pneumonia. Wiggle hands and toes for circulation. Start walking. Cardiac Re-Hab visited my room that morning for the first walk, a few steps out into the hallway and back.
Each day got better. Stable vital signs. Fewer tubes. Walks increasing to multiple laps around the unit. Kelly and Alissa were my walking partners over the weekend, prodding and encouraging. Four walks per day.
Monday, November 20. I can go home.
I must admit my attitude toward post-op prior to surgery was cavalier – I expected to be home on Saturday. But a quote from an Army Officer during the Vietnam War comes to mind: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” It seems they nearly had to destroy this 71-year-old body in order to save it. Scars on my chest, both arms and legs. The worst, and only area that provided me any pain, was the right leg. That is where they extracted the veins to place in my heart. The leg was swollen to nearly double normal size with a deep purple bruise running from top to ankle.
As I proceed in recovering, I cannot say enough about the entire staff at St. Elizabeth’s. All top notch and extremely professional. I cannot start to mention them all by name. But I do appreciate them all.
There are 5 exceptional heroes in my story:
First, of course, is the surgeon who performed the operation, Dr. Abouzelam.
Next are his staff members mentioned above, Kelsey and Erin.  Besides welcoming us, they were constantly in the Hospital, communicating between physician and nursing staff, between physician and patient. Acting as cheerleaders and answering any questions I might have. They are my angels, and I will never forget that.
Dr. Reiser for seeing the link with my sore throats. I am not sure what might have happened had he not. I suspect a heart attack. Heredity is not on my side – my father passed away as a result of his fourth heart attack at age 52, when I was only 12.
My SUPER HERO is Paula, whose life was turned upside down. She had a week to accept the fact that I needed the surgery, another week after to figure out how much our life will be changing. She handled it like a trooper. We have been adjusting. Our love, and our marriage, are stronger than ever as we move forward.
Now I am working toward a full recovery. The hope to be able once again to play with our young grandchildren is a great motivator. Paula is looking forward to me being able to mow, rake, and shovel again. Yard work is certainly in the future. But, truthfully, that prospect does not motivate. But, with my repaired heart, I will gladly take the bad with the good.