Three years ago, Dante thought shortness of breath and chest tightness were just signs of getting old. "When I look back, I had heartburn…I got tired sometimes, and it was hard to breathe, but I didn't realize anything was wrong. I thought 'I'm 71 years old. I'm just getting old,' never was sick."
But when he decided to sit out on a Father's Day golf game, his wife knew something was wrong. "For him not to go play golf – that's the end of the world," Ruth says. The two called their daughter, a nurse, who took Dante to the emergency room where he spent a night in the ICU due to skyrocketing blood pressure.
The next day, his cardiologist, Dr. Remington, performed a diagnostic cardiac catheterization, which confirmed that Dante had numerous blockages in his coronary arteries. Dr. Remington sent him to Crawford Long Hospital to see cardiac surgeon Dr. John Puskas.
After establishing that Dante needed a quadruple bypass, doctors approached Dante to ask him to participate in a prospective randomized "blind study" conceived in 1998. "We took 200 patients," says Dr. Puskas, "who had every sort of degree of heart disease: coronary blockages, reduced ventricular function, or heart failure, and we randomized them to have their operations with or without the heart-lung machine, that is to say stopped heart surgery or beating heart surgery." The patients did not know which surgery they underwent until a year later when doctors performed an angiogram to examine the status of their bypass grafts.
In beating heart surgery, surgeons use a stabilization device called the Medtronic Octopus® Tissue Stabilizer to stabilize the tissue, thereby avoiding the need to stop the heart, which requires use of a heart-lung machine. The Octopus Tissue Stabilizer uses suction pods to stabilize the heart tissue, making it easier for the surgeon to attach the bypass graft while the heart continues to beat.
Dante and his family agreed that he would take part in the study, and Dr. Puskas performed the beating heart surgery. Dante surprised his family by moving out of the recovery room after only a couple hours, and the day after his surgery, Dante was feeling great. "I recognized everybody that came in to visit me, which was a lot of people. There was even a parade outside! I never thought about being alert or not; I just talked to everybody…it's hard to keep my mouth shut," Dante jokes.
Dante's daughter also noticed an immediate difference. "He actually seemed like he felt better – he told us that in the hospital room he was already feeling better than he did before the surgery. We never saw any signs of any types of postoperative neurological dysfunction such as grouchiness or forgetfulness or anything. He was immediately our dad again, but with more energy."
In the following weeks, Dante carefully followed the doctors' instructions, although he wanted to do more than they advised. He visited a nutritionist, began walking daily on a treadmill, and even found a way to get himself on the golf course.
His doctor had advised him to wait 3 months before swinging a golf club in order to allow for a complete recovery, but Dante felt so good, he couldn't stay off the course. "So what I did, still being in good spirits, I went over there and putted. I got to be very good at putting because that's what I was doing all the time."
Now 3 years later, Dante is swinging his golf clubs whenever he wants. "Sometimes I play 18 holes. I've even played 27 holes in the heat – before I could never get through 9."
A year after surgery at his check-up, Dante learned that Dr. Puskas had performed beating heart surgery on him. "I thought I would never be the same after bypass surgery," Dante says, "I thought after you have bypass surgery, your life would change. But my life changed for the better. I'm on top of the world. You know how I look at my bypass surgery? I'm a winner. So when you're a winner, everything's fine."
Dante also has the time and energy for his number 1 priority: family. His daughter says he'll often stop by her house to play with his grandkids – he has 24 of them in all. "He's a big kid – gets them all riled up and then goes home."
This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.