Phill’s Story Heart Valve Disease

A Life without Boundaries

Phill, living with heart valve disease.

Phill, living with heart valve disease.

As a mountain climber and adventure trip leader, physical health and well-being are vital to Phill’s personal and professional survival.

“For me, survival means having the opportunity to rise to every single challenge and ideally live your life without any kind of boundaries.”

Phill is able to do just that thanks to his Medtronic Freestyle® tissue valve. However, this wasn’t always the case.

Discovery of Heart Condition

When Phill was 15, his doctor discovered a heart murmur during a routine physical exam. Further testing showed Phill had a bicuspid aortic valve, the most common congenital (from birth) heart condition.

Instead of the normal three leaflets (or cusps) required for optimum forward blood flow, Phill’s aortic valve had just two leaflets. For someone with this condition, the leaflets often are not able to open and close completely, which can cause calcium deposit to form. As the calcium deposits build, the valve opening narrows (stenosis) and blood leaks backward into the heart (regurgitation), forcing the heart to work harder.

Phill’s heart murmur indicated that he was experiencing mild stenosis and regurgitation. His doctor advised that aortic valve replacement would be needed at some point later in his life.

Unfazed by Diagnosis

With Phill’s limitless mindset, he was unfazed by his diagnosis and the prospect of heart valve replacement. Instead, he forged ahead with a life more active than most. From mountain climbing and scuba diving, to river rafting and deep sea fishing, Phill didn’t let his heart condition slow him down.

“I just decided to go on with my life until I needed to do something about it.”

Time to Act

That time came when Phill was 32. On a scuba diving trip, Phill said, “I was feeling quite underpowered and just wasn’t myself.”

He developed a cough that wouldn’t go away and fluid buildup in his lungs. Phill then began to lose consciousness suddenly when lifting anything heavy. Within four months, Phill’s condition had changed dramatically.

A family physician x-rayed his heart and found that it was enlarged. He referred Phill to a cardiologist. An echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) showed that Phill’s aortic valve was 80 percent fused shut as a result of stenosis. Phill needed aortic valve replacement as soon as possible.

An Important Decision

After extensive research, Phill selected a respected cardiac surgeon in his Canadian hometown. Based on Phill’s active lifestyle and desire to avoid taking blood thinners or frequent blood tests for the rest of his life, the surgeon recommended the Medtronic Freestyle tissue valve — an FDA-approved stentless valve that mimics the design and blood flow characteristics of a human aortic valve.

The physiologic design provides the optimal level of forward blood flow plus two treatments that help reduce calcium deposits and improve the overall durability of the valve. As a result, the Medtronic Freestyle tissue valve ideally supports Phill to return to an active lifestyle.

“I had choices to go (with a) mechanical (valve) or to go with the tissue valve. I didn’t want to take any kind of medication…so it was obvious that I needed a valve that would be no to low maintenance. The Medtronic Freestyle was the best fit for me.”

A New Lease on Life

In January 2003, Phill underwent open-heart surgery for placement of his Medtronic Freestyle tissue valve. He was up and moving the day after his procedure and spent a total of one week in the hospital.

Just five weeks later, Phill went snowboarding in the mountains.

“My Medtronic Freestyle tissue valve has given me a new lease on life. I’m able to live the active lifestyle I lived before. In fact, it’s improved my general outlook and my ability to do things.”

Phill shares his Medtronic Freestyle® valve experience


Reaching New Heights

Inspired to share his experience and inspire others, Phill has compiled a team of adventurers for an expedition called The Secret Spot Seven Summits. The team will climb the seven highest peaks on each of the world’s continents and document their journey at The climb to Mount Everest has been named The Everest Freestyle Expedition in recognition of Phill’s appreciation of the Medtronic Freestyle tissue valve.

According to Phill, the goal of the Everest Freestyle Expedition is to “show how somebody who has had major cardiovascular surgery is enjoying an adventurous lifestyle with the help of his Medtronic Freestyle valve.”

We hope you’ll join Phill on his adventure and discover how the Medtronic Freestyle tissue valve is helping Phill reach new heights.

Phill's experience is not representative of the typical Freestyle patient, but his story is inspirational. He is one extraordinary individual who was able to reach a personal goal through the help of this therapy. Medtronic, Inc. invited him to share this story candidly. As you read it, please bear in mind the experiences are specific to this particular individual and are not representative of the typical Freestyle patient.

Freestyle is a registered trademark of Medtronic, Inc.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.