A New Life After Open Heart Surgery: Daniel’s Story

DanDaniel Lo, 77, was diagnosed in 2010 with multiple myeloma, a relatively rare cancer affecting plasma cells in the bone marrow. The condition was discovered when Daniel was scheduled for open heart surgery to repair blockages found during a routine angiogram. The diagnosis was a surprise since Daniel had none of the symptoms of multiple myeloma, which include fatigue and problems with bruising and bleeding.

The heart surgery was canceled and Daniel began chemotherapy, while his family gathered round to lend their support. Daniel and his wife, Colleen, had raised three sons and were looking forward to a move to Edmonds following his retirement after 40 years as a pharmacist in the Tacoma area.

“There was a lot going on for us,” says Daniel. Rather than open heart surgery, his cardiologist decided to put in stents while Daniel continued his chemotherapy. He and Colleen made the move to Edmonds and for a couple of years, Daniel was relatively stable. But in May 2012, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, an inability of the heart to pump adequately. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fluid retention and rapid heartbeat.

Daniel’s daughter-in-law, who is a nurse, recommended he transfer his cardiac care to Virginia Mason. “It was a good move,” says Daniel. He desperately needed open heart surgery, but it was considered too risky because of his ongoing chemotherapy for the multiple myeloma. The Virginia Mason doctor gave Daniel hope that the surgery could be done. In late spring of 2014, Daniel was well enough to go off chemotherapy for two months, a requirement for the surgery to be scheduled.

“The multiple myeloma made surgery a big risk, but because they took that risk, I got my life back.” 

In June, the open heart surgery was done to replace Daniel’s mitral and aortic valves. During the hours-long operation, Colleen was surrounded by family and appreciated the Virginia Mason practice of frequent updates on how the surgery was progressing.

By the time Daniel was out of recovery and into intensive care, he was “really doing well.” He could tell right away, he says, that the surgery was successful because of the way he felt. After seven days in the hospital, Daniel went to a transitional rehab facility and then home. For now, Daniel doesn’t need to resume chemotherapy since tests show that he is “stable.” There is no cure for multiple myeloma.

Today, Daniel goes to the gym regularly to do exercises that keep his heart strong. “And I go for walks just like a normal person,” he says with a laugh. He adds that one of the things he appreciates most about his care at Virginia Mason is that the doctors decided to do the surgery at all. “The multiple myeloma made it a big risk,” says Daniel, “but because they took that risk, I got my life back.”

Advanced Procedure Makes Heart Valve Replacement Possible for More Patients

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With his new heart valve, Bob Partridge can walk without getting winded. Trish Rantos, ARNP, measures his progress.

When Bob Partridge’s cardiologist told him it was time to treat his faulty heart valve, Bob was very aware of the problem. He couldn’t walk the 14 steps from his basement to the kitchen without stopping to catch his breath or even make it across his yard. Bob’s aortic valve had narrowed, obstructing blood flow. His heart straining to pump enough blood left him profoundly tired and weak.

Bob had severe aortic valve stenosis, a condition primarily treated by replacing the valve during open-heart surgery. Because Bob has a stoma — a permanent opening in his neck to breathe following treatment for laryngeal cancer — a chest wound from operating on his heart might become infected. Open-heart surgery was too risky for Bob, but his interventional cardiologist, Gordon Kritzer, MD, FACC, had a less invasive treatment in mind.

Bob learned he could receive his new heart valve by way of a balloon catheter inserted through a small incision in his groin. Known as transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, a new valve is guided through an artery all the way to the heart, then expanded to replace the damaged valve. A newly constructed operating suite with the advanced imaging capability needed to perform TAVR had just opened at Virginia Mason. Bob would be the first patient to undergo the procedure there.

“I had no objection; they are great doctors,” says Bob. “I have a lot of faith in Dr. Kritzer, and Dr. Velamoor (cardiac surgeon Gautam R. Velamoor, MD, FACS) really impressed me. I said let’s do it. Somebody has to be first.”

Right after the procedure, Dr. Kritzer reported to Bob’s wife, Jacolyn, that everything had gone very well and she’d be able to see him in a few minutes. “He got such good care afterward, they were really on the case,” remembers Jacolyn. “His recuperation was so much easier than it would have been with open-heart surgery.”

Bob went home only five days after having TAVR. He wore a monitor for the first couple of weeks to track his heart rate, but didn’t feel any pain or other effects from the procedure. What he did feel was back to normal, walking and taking the stairs like he used to, without getting winded.

“My laryngectomy was a big operation, but TAVR wasn’t anything compared to that,” says Bob. “I was very willing to go along with it because I like my doctors, I know them. It was a good experience.”