Pat noticed a "tightness" in her chest one day toward the end of October 2001, and she felt more tired than usual. She wasn’t taking her daily walks around Lake Harriet in Minneapolis.
Looking back, she says that her body was telling her that something was wrong.
Pat attributed these symptoms to working full time and having high blood pressure. When she visited her doctor to explain her symptoms, she expected to get a higher dose of her current high blood pressure medication. Instead, she was given a stress test for her heart. She admits that she "failed miserably."
Pat's family had some experience with heart surgery in the past. Her brother had a heart attack and underwent triple bypass surgery. Like Pat, one of her sisters takes medication for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This family history, however, is the only black mark on Pat's record of risk factors for heart problems. Previously, she kept up a healthy diet and enjoyed regular exercise, including her walks around the lake.
After failing the stress test, her doctor immediately scheduled her to have an angiogram. The results showed that her LAD (left anterior descending) artery had a very long blockage, which the cardiologist felt could not be treated effectively with angioplasty or a stent. She was then told that she needed surgery. It was only 3 weeks from the time of her first doctor visit to the date of her surgery.
Pat's surgeon recommended beating heart surgery for her condition. She was not familiar with this less invasive form of surgery. She says, "I really had no idea how heart surgery was done.
[My surgeon] just told me I would not be on a heart-lung machine, which made me feel good."
Despite undergoing an unfamiliar procedure, Pat had confidence in her surgeon and in her upcoming surgery. She says, "I was concerned, but not really afraid because so many people have the surgery. It seemed like it was so commonplace that it just didn't bother me." She adds, "[My surgeon] gave the nurses all these initials, like performing an O-P-C-A-B and an E-K-G, and the nurses just said, 'Piece of cake.'"
To perform the bypass surgery, Pat's surgeon used the Medtronic Octopus® Tissue Stabilizer, which stabilized the small area of the heart on which he needed to perform the delicate suturing (sewing) necessary to connect the bypass grafts. While the Octopus stabilizer minimizes motion in one small area, the rest of the heart can continue to beat. Until the invention of tissue stabilizers, to obtain a motionless heart the surgeon had to place the patient on the heart-lung machine.
The second day after her surgery, Pat remembers seeing her children in the hallway. She admits, "The first day after surgery, of course, I didn't know anything. The second day, I was aware of my kids standing in the hallway watching, all six of them." Pat wanted to send them home so that she could focus all of her energy on recovering as quickly as possible.
The hospital stay ended up being less than a week. She says, "I stayed in the hospital 6 days, and that was a good time because I was ready to go home."
Pat started physical therapy exercises while still in the hospital. She went to a class every day, and the nurses had her practice sitting up and moving her legs. She began taking walks down the halls, and she recalls being surprised at how good she felt. She says, "You think you're going to be very frail after heart surgery. I expected to be an invalid a lot longer than I was."
In addition to the subtraction of salt from her diet, Pat was given a regimented physical therapy schedule to keep up at home. Her daughter-in-law listened to the detailed instructions of the hospital staff and made sure that Pat did all her exercises. When reflecting on tips for heart surgery patients, Pat advises, "It's really important to listen to the rehab people because they are so good. They know what they're doing, and [if] you do what they say, you just bounce back."
Four months after her surgery, Pat is walking around Lake Harriet again. She says, "From the house, it’s about 4 miles back and forth. I’m aiming to do it in an hour or so, and [it takes] a little over an hour now." To Pat, this means that her recovery is almost complete.
Pat also has big plans for the future. She plans to continue her one-on-one trips and adventures with her grandkids, and she will continue to play bridge and go to the symphony with her friends. She also says, "I intend to take more hiking trips and travel. I look forward to visiting Chesapeake Bay and Cape Hatteras. I intend to stay very active!"
This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.