Patient Shares How Cardiac Surgery and Cardiac Rehab Saved His Life

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Loss of His Sister Prompts Him to Check oh Own Heart Health

Rick Drummond never thought his spouse would drop him off at the curb of Baystate Medical Center, very early in the morning, alone, to face major heart surgery. However, that was his reality. Covid-19 was rampant in the community and there was still a lot of uncertainty.

“The hardest part was, as I now jokingly say, that he dumped me off at the curb at 5 am, all alone because he was not allowed to come into the hospital or be with me during the surgery prep because of COVID-19. There couldn’t be waiting areas for family while in surgery, so he had to wait with friends outside the hospital,” said Rick Drummond.

Aortic Aneurysms Revealed After Echocardiogram

After the recent loss of his sister from an aneurysm days shy of her surgery date, Rick was urged to have his aorta, the main artery that carries blood away from your heart to the rest of your body, and his heart looked at for possible aneurysm. Rick visited his primary care physician who then recommended he have an echocardiogram.

“A day after my echocardiogram my primary care physician called to refer me to Baystate Cardiac Surgery and that’s how I met Dr. Kelly Wanamaker,” Rick said.

Dr. Wanamaker, cardiac surgeon, diagnosed Rick with two ascending aortic aneurysms, with the one at the root of his heart causing his aortic valve to be weakened and insufficient and in need of replacement.

He would need a complex root replacement which includes replacing his aortic valve as well as his entire ascending aorta. This involved delicate removal of both coronary arteries then re-implanting them back to his newly constructed aortic root. The aortic root is the first part of the aorta that attaches to the heart and holds your aortic valve. It’s also where your coronary arteries begin. The aorta is the largest artery in the body.

The aortic root gives rise to the ascending aorta. Some aneurysms affect both the aortic root and the ascending aorta. The ascending aorta leads up to the aortic arch, which is the peak of the curve. The descending aorta is the part after the arch. It travels down through the chest and leads to the abdominal aorta (the part in the abdomen).

“Aortic root replacement surgery fixes an aneurysm in the part of your aorta that attaches to your heart. An aneurysm is a weak spot in a blood vessel wall. Aneurysms can dissect (tear) or rupture and cause life-threatening internal bleeding. Aneurysm surgery can save your life by preventing rupture or dissection,” said Dr. Wanamaker.

Dr. Wanamaker went on to say, “Because your aortic root is so complex, surgery on it is also complex. It involves dividing the chest bone to access the heart. Going on the heart-lung machine, stopping the heart, removing the aneurysm. Then replacing the aneurysm with a tube graft made of a coated polyester material. The aortic valve is removed and replaced, and the coronary arteries are then attached to the new graft. Surgery like this takes approximately four to five hours.”

All parts of the aortic root are elastic and flexible when one is a child. But they become less flexible as one gets older. This loss of elasticity affects how they move and how well the aorta can function.

She Made a Difference at the Scariest Moment of My Life

Having this surgery during COVID-19 was very difficult. While in the hospital much of Rick’s time was spent alone, due to Covid-19 restrictions.

“I was alone most of the time and when I had my first procedure, a cardiac catheterization, the nurse that took care of me explained what my surgery day would entail, she showed me the pre-op pods, and explained so much to me. I was afraid and nervous. This surgery was necessary to save my life. And as much as I was afraid, I told myself this is something you don’t do every day so it’s ok to be nervous. But this is something they do every day, and I trusted them,” shared Rick.

cardiac surgery wanamaker

“I spend a lot of time with my patients before surgery, getting to know them, understanding what their baseline is, so I can help the team take better care of them after surgery. For Rick, I spent time with him explaining details, answering questions, and detailing the expectations after surgery. I showed models of the heart, pictures of his aneurysm, the technical details of surgery, and how I close the sternum (breastbone) all with the intention of easing anxiety,” said Dr. Wanamaker.

Rick was impressed with the care he received beginning with the pre-op procedures through recovery. Although he had just lost his sister to an aneurysm, he knew he was in good hands with Baystate Health and Dr. Wanamaker.

“They spoke to me about information in my chart regarding family history and put me at ease. The nurse even expressed her condolences on the loss of my sister. This showed me that the team at Baystate Health does read patient clinical notes and are aware of the patient in front of them. I would like to say that I was brave and fearless, however when I got on the operating room table I suddenly started to shake and cry. The nurse comforted me and told me everything was going to be all right and that I was brave -- she made a difference at the scariest moment of my life.”

Rick’s surgery went very well, and he is so thankful for Dr. Wanamaker.

“I was extremely impressed that she was in my room as I came out of anesthesia and also visited me just about every morning I was in the hospital,” shared Rick.

Rick was discharged five days later.

One Month After Surgery Cardiac Rehab Begins

One month after surgery Rick started cardiac rehabilitation at Baystate Noble Hospital.

“Cardiac rehab was fantastic. The Baystate Noble team worked with my needs and concerns and helped me to excel in what I feared most – exercise and running on the treadmill,” said Rick.

“I never thought I would be able to run again. I followed all instructions and pushed myself on the treadmill to increase my elevation and resistance. I am not a ‘runner’, but I have run several charity 5k’s (3.1 miles) and enjoyed the challenge. The cardiac rehab team informed me it was possible, and I could start training in rehabilitation. How perfect I thought…you are hooked up to a heart monitor and surrounded by nurses and medical staff so if I was to experience any issues, they were there to support me. 5k or not in cardiac rehab, I learned the importance of daily exercise, better eating habits, how to monitor my own blood pressure and how exercise will help me to maintain a lower blood pressure naturally,” said Rick.

They Saved My Life Before I Understood And Knew My Life Was in Jeopardy 

These days Rick is staying as active as he can. He was in good physical condition before his surgery; however, he remains thankful to the cardiac rehab team at Baystate Noble.

“They gave me the confidence that walking up a flight of stairs or running a 5k in the future is not going to kill me. I work with patients in the medical field, and I have always been compassionate but now I feel the need to be more informative, highlighting the future and after care and that’s what patient care is all about — fixing problems but also preventing future problems and enjoying the benefits of feeling better. Having Baystate Health and this advanced level of care available to me means everything. They saved my life before I understood and knew that my life was in jeopardy.”

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