Ron has been in good health for most of his life. He was a high school athlete, a regular jogger, and he never smoked. The first sign of trouble came in December of 1996.
"I woke up in the middle of the night and felt a tingling in my right leg. I got out of bed and decided to walk it off because it was tingling quite a bit, like when your foot goes to sleep."
When Ron's arm also started going numb, his wife Sandy called an ambulance. Ron was rushed to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a hereditary condition that weakened the walls of his aorta. Ron was taken to the operating room, where surgeons placed him on a heart-lung machine and performed open heart surgery to correct the congenital defect. The operation took all day, but it was a success. Ron suffered through the typical post-surgical recovery.
Ron's wife, Sandy, remembers the recovery. "I remember his looking out from ICU and seeing me and giving just a slight smile or maybe moving his hand a little bit. He was still hooked up to an awful lot of equipment."
Ron doesn't remember much about that recovery period now, but he knows he had to stay in the hospital for a week. After some intense cardiac rehabilitation, Ron thought he could put it all behind him, but about 18 months later, he started getting headaches.
"And then one day I'm walking with Sandy and she said, 'Where else does it hurt? Does it hurt anywhere else, or just the headache?' And I said, 'Oh yeah, I get a little bit of chest pain, too, at the same time.' Well, it was angina – that's what it was."
Ron needed another operation on his heart, but this time his doctor recommended that he have an operation called "beating heart surgery." Surgery on the beating heart is made possible with a device from Medtronic called the Octopus® Tissue Stabilizer, which uses suction to stabilize the heart. The surgeon attaches the suction heads on each side of the coronary artery to be bypassed. This lifts that part of the heart and holds it steady, so the surgeon can sew the bypass graft in place on the beating heart.
Ron's second operation lasted less than 3 hours. To Ron's family, it seemed like a completely different experience.
Although it is unclear why Ron's recovery from his second surgical experience was so much easier, Ron and Sandy clearly noticed a dramatic difference. Sandy describes her recollections: "I think when I noticed it was really different was when the phone rang at 7:00 the next morning and it was Ron! He sounded very alert. He was a little upset with the nurses in the ICU because they couldn't figure out how to turn on the TV! I don't imagine the nurses have to turn on the TV in the ICU very often!"
According to Ron, "After the second surgery, I think I came home on the 4th day. In fact, after the second surgery the doctor said I could come home during the third day, and my wife said 'Not to my house you're not coming home.' She wasn't ready for me recovering so quickly. So I stayed in the hospital another day."
"I still wasn't sure about all this," says Sandy. "My memory was of the first surgery. I mean, coming home the first time, Ron was mighty weak and mighty tired and had to be mighty careful – any movement or coughing at all caused a great deal of pain. The second time around of course he still had to be careful and had some pain, but he was just a different person (in terms of his alertness and memory)."
Ron is enjoying life now. For the most part, his heart problems are in the past.
"There's nothing that I want to do that I can't do from a physical standpoint. I feel wonderful. And we're at a wonderful time in life. Just couldn't be better."
This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.