Getting Back to Life After Heart Surgery

Tuesday, Aug 30, 2016
Fishing after Heart Surgery

The team at The Heart Institute helped this active outdoorsman overcome serious heart issues to get back to doing what he loves.

All his life, Don Knight went camping, fishing and hunting. He shared these pursuits with his four sons as they grew up and continued to enjoy these activities in his retirement.

"That's my thing," said Don. "The outdoors is my thing."

So it was unusual when Don had to slow down to the point where he couldn't do what he loves.

"It was getting progressively worse – you knew there was a problem," said Shawn Knight, a New Britain police officer. "I said to him, 'Dad, in one year you got old'."

Don, who was 79 at the time, attributed his shortness of breath and fatigue to aging.

"I never knew I had a heart issue," said Don, who lives in Ottsville with his beloved dog, Cami.

Don's family doctor, Joseph O'Neill, DO suggested he see a cardiologist, who ran tests and referred him to Doylestown Health cardiothoracic surgeon James B. McClurken, MD. Don was facing several serious issues including heart failure, Atrial Fibrillation, multiple heart valve leakages and coronary artery disease. Three of the main arteries supplying blood to the heart were 80 percent blocked.

"They told me I probably would have lived about three months if I hadn't been treated," said Don.

Dr. McClurken operated on Don on May 29, 2015, performing a triple bypass, repairing the mitral and tricuspid valves and doing a bilateral pulmonary vein  radiofrequency ablation to correct the heart rhythm problem.

Following surgery, Don stayed in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) at Doylestown Hospital for 10 days, a bit longer than the usual four- to five-day stay due to the multiple types of cardiac repairs. While there, specially trained cardiac nurses provided expert care. The CVICU has a "one-stop, post-op" care model allowing a patient to stay in the same room from admission through discharge. This provides continuity and comfort for the patient and the patient's family.

The "one stop, post-op" model can also improve patient outcomes. Since the same nursing team cares for a patient throughout the stay, nurses can detect subtle changes in a patient's condition, intervening early to head off any potential problems. Additionally, it is very comforting for the patient to have the same expert nurses throughout the stay.

"The care was phenomenal," said Don. "Everybody was so upbeat and caring."

"We have a very upbeat staff whose goal is to get people back to their family and their life," said Dr. McClurken. "Don has that spark for life."

Don's family came every day to see him as he started to regain his strength.

"The care was excellent," said Shawn. "They told us exactly what was going on and kept us all very well informed."

A Heart-to-Heart volunteer also visited Don regularly. These former heart patients share their experiences with current patients. "That was nice," said Don.

By the end of the hospital stay Don was walking down the hallway in the Heart Institute. After leaving the hospital, he stayed at his son's house for about a month.

The Heart Institute offers a special service for open-heart surgery patients. Patti Banis, RN is a former CVICU nurse who meets patients in the hospital before their procedures and follows their progress while they are admitted. After patients leave Doylestown Hospital, Patti visits them to provide follow-up care at home.

Patti visited Don at his son's house. Soon, Don returned home and his doctor cleared him to drive. He began the cardiac rehabilitation program at Doylestown Hospital.

"Everybody there was great," said Don. "I was really starting to feel better."

Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically-supervised exercise and education program for patients who have had stents, heart attacks, bypass or valve surgery and heart failure. The four-phase program starts at Doylestown Hospital and is completed at The Health & Wellness Center in Warrington.

Don's recovery was gaining momentum until unfortunately he started having issues with a hernia, which required surgery at Doylestown Hospital in late 2015. Don received care at home until late February. "The visiting nurses were fantastic," he noted.

With the roadblock behind him, Don was anxious to get moving again. This Spring, he resumed his cardiac rehabilitation program at the Health & Wellness Center. He went trout fishing on opening day of the season in early April. This summer he's enjoying yard work and other outdoor activities with his sons and grandchildren.

"I'm back in the saddle again," Don said. "It feels great."

"He's back doing what he used to do," said his son, Shawn.

"Don had several severe diagnoses," said Dr. McClurken. "His recovery is good testimony to the team of providers here at Doylestown Hospital – and his motivation for recovery!"

"I wouldn't go anywhere else," said Don.

Have Questions about Atrial Fibrillation?

About Doylestown Health's Heart Institute

Expert cardiologists and cardiac surgeons assist patients and physicians with managing risk factors for heart disease, offer advanced treatment options and provide outstanding emergency cardiac care. The multidisciplinary team at the Heart Institute is dedicated to providing the highest level of quality care and patient safety.

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