When Roger Newill walked into Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital a week after his heart surgery, the nurses noted two things: One, he looked healthier. And two, he held gift baskets of food.
“Of course I looked better — they had only seen me dressed in a hospital gown, which makes everyone look sicker,” Roger jokes.
But the purpose for his visit was to recognize the excellent care he received during his hospital stay. “The nurses made me as comfortable as possible,” he says.
Even though both his father and grandfather died of heart disease, Roger’s diagnosis took him by surprise.
“I just didn’t expect it at such a young age,” explains the 60-year-old.
An architect by trade, Roger doesn’t visit the doctor often. But he saw his family physician to rule out prostate cancer and to check his cholesterol. At a follow-up appointment, he mentioned something else.
“I had some chest pain while mowing the lawn, but it stopped after a minute if I rested,” he recalls. “I asked if it could be allergies.”
His family physician referred him for tests — including a stress electrocardiogram (EKG) and nuclear stress test. The tests indicated possible problems, and a heart catheterization (where dye is injected through a catheter in the groin to view coronary arteries) confirmed his physician’s suspicions.
It wasn’t allergies Roger had, but heart disease.
Mild warning signs ignored
Symptoms of heart disease (including shortness of breath, a feeling of fullness or discomfort, weakness or dizziness, nausea, or palpitations) are so modest that patients ignore them until too late.
“My cardiologist said I was lucky we discovered it before I had a heart attack,” Roger recalls.
His arteries were clogged by plaque (a build-up of cholesterol) in three spots, which inhibits blood flow. Because the blockages were at artery intersections, surgeons couldn’t use stents (metal mesh artery reinforcements). They recommended bypass surgery, which reroutes blood around clogged arteries to improve flow of blood and oxygen.
Five days later, Roger was in surgery.
Low surgical risk
As a non-smoker who wasn’t overweight or diabetic, physicians told Roger he was a low-risk candidate.
Roger’s surgery lasted approximately four hours, with no complications. After a few days in the hospital — during which he doesn’t recall much, except that his wife stayed by his side, his son and daughter visited in shifts, and the nurses took good care of him — Roger went home.
Road to recovery: steady progress
“I felt as brittle as broken china glued back together,” Roger explains, “although that was entirely from opening my rib cage to get to my heart. There was no ‘real’ pain whatsoever.” For six weeks, he was exhausted. To enhance the healing process, he attended cardiac rehabilitation three mornings a week.
“The physical therapy helped get me moving, and it gave me a chance to ask about any little pains,” he says. “That’s a nice, comforting part of therapy. The staff is knowledgeable, thoughtful and careful. And as long as the answer is ‘that’s normal,’ you stop worrying about it.”