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The Dive of a Lifetime

Wednesday, Jul 20, 2016

Long-time SCUBA diver George Schulle was able to get back in the water thanks to excellent care provided by Doylestown Health's Heart Institute . . . and a blizzard.

The story of George Schulle's successful heart surgery starts with a blizzard.

On January 23, 2016, a major storm dumped two feet of snow on our area. George Schulle started to shovel the walkway around his Warminster home, something he'd done many times before. But this time, George felt light-headed and short of breath with discomfort in his chest. To finish shoveling the 15-foot walkway he had to rest, which was unusual for him.

"I knew something was wrong," said George, an athletic 68-year-old. He called his doctor, who told him to go to Doylestown Hospital.

A cardiac catheterization revealed George had two clogged coronary arteries (the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart). He needed bypass surgery.

Coronary artery bypass surgery, or CABG, creates a new path for blood to flow to the heart. The surgeon takes a healthy piece of vein from the leg or artery from the chest or wrist. The surgeon attaches it to the coronary artery, just past the narrowed area or blockage, allowing blood to get around (bypass) the blockage.

In the face of open-heart surgery, George told his doctors he had a specific goal for recovery.

George started SCUBA diving 35 years ago and has taught diving classes for 30 years. He's been on thousands of dives all over the world photographing sea creatures and coral reefs.

In early 2015, George started planning a dive trip for April 2016 to the Raja Ampat Islands in Indonesia. Located in Southeast Asia between the Indian and Pacific oceans, the collection of islands is known for its extremely diverse marine life. It is a top destination for the serious SCUBA diver. George was planning to dive Raja Ampat for the first time.

But first, George needed bypass surgery. It was late January 2016 and the procedure was scheduled a week later to allow the blood thinner he was taking to leave his system.

On February 8, 2016, Doylestown Health cardiothoracic surgeon James McClurken, MD, performed double bypass surgery. George stayed in the Heart Institute's Intensive Care Unit for several days. He wondered if he'd be able to go on his dive trip halfway across the world in April. His team of caregivers was cautious but encouraging. The dive trip became his goal.

"Everybody had a positive attitude, which helped a lot. Nobody ever said, 'You can't do this,'" said George. "Everybody was working to get me to the point where I could do what I wanted – and it worked."

After several days in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU), George returned home. He followed doctor's orders and started the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at Doylestown Hospital where he exercised under the close supervision of rehab specialists.

Once he felt strong enough, George started walking for exercise with a friend in the Willow Grove Mall. With more energy and stamina, he felt a big difference from before the surgery.

But could he go on the dive trip?

With 31 dives planned over 10 days, George wanted to be sure he'd be fit for the adventure. He would be staying on a boat more than two hours away from medical facilities in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

George successfully passed a stress test and was cleared for the trip. Understandably, he was a little nervous before making the first dive.

"I wasn't sure what was going to happen but when I got in the water everything was back to normal," he said.  

George continues to swim, work out at the gym and plan future dive trips. He appreciates how the team at the Heart Institute got him back to doing what he loves.

"If I hadn't had that surgery, I probably would have died on that trip," said George. "I had an excellent experience at Doylestown Hospital."

Find a Cardiologist Near You

About Doylestown Health's Heart & Vascular Services

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. Doylestown Hospital’s accredited Chest Pain Center is fully prepared to treat cardiac emergencies around the clock, focusing on rapid diagnosis and effective treatment. The multidisciplinary team at the Richard A. Reif Heart Institute is dedicated to providing the highest level of quality care and patient safety.

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