On February 15, 2010, John Bresland had minimally invasive aortic valve replacement surgery at the UM Heart Center. Nine weeks later, he enjoyed a vacation with his wife, where he was able to play golf, swim and hike. Below, his wife, Beth Batdorf, tells the story from her perspective.
On February 15, 2010, I was in the family area waiting for the intensive care nurse to let me know that I could see my husband John for the first time since his aortic valve replacement surgery. The surgeon had already told me that the surgery went well and that I would be able to see John in approximately one hour. I was still pretty scared by the fact that John was in the ICU, but I had every confidence that the surgeon and his team of nurses and physicians at the University of Maryland Heart Center would do everything they could to make sure that he did well.
John was able to drive two weeks after surgery since he was no longer on pain medication. He played nine holes of golf four weeks following surgery and went back to work full-time after five weeks. Today, nine weeks following surgery, John and I are enjoying an overnight mini vacation. He played golf, swam, and hiked with no shortness of breath or lack of energy.
My 69-year-old husband knew he had a congenital aortic valve for many years and that he would eventually need surgery. That didn't stop us from feeling upset when we got a letter from Dr. Trisha Nashed, John's local cardiologist, in early spring 2009 indicating that there had been a significant change in the echocardiogram and that she wanted to talk to us.
We met with Dr. Nashed in April 2009, but John didn’t think that he was having any symptoms. Dr. Nashed agreed that we could wait to pursue aortic valve replacement surgery until John became symptomatic. I had already explored with Dr. Nashed the possibility of the minimally invasive procedure, and she suggested we might want to see the surgeons at the University of Maryland Heart Center as they specialized in aortic valve surgery, and she thought the University of Maryland Heart Center had a good program.
After our consultation with Dr. Nashed, I began to notice that John was tiring more easily. He had a tendency to take naps whenever he had the opportunity, and I thought his breathing was labored at times. John no longer wanted to play golf on the weekend, and he often came home tired and couldn't figure out why. He just didn't seem like himself. But it was easy for both of us to blame any changes on his age and full-time employment.
I finally was able to persuade John to visit UMMC for a consultation in early January 2010. We were both anxious about the appointment. We had convinced ourselves that John could continue to postpone the surgery.
We met first with Jo Ann Sikora, a nurse practitioner. Jo Ann provides a wonderful feeling of security, and I felt immediately that she was our safety net. You know from the start that she has the knowledge base you need. She made us both feel very comfortable as she reviewed John's history and asked questions that helped John acknowledge that there was some change in his physical status.
Our surgeon spent more than an hour with us, which I think is very unusual in the world of surgical consultation. He also took the time to understand our very different personalities.
He made it clear that he thought, based on John's echocardiogram and history, that John should have aortic valve replacement surgery "sooner rather than later." He answered all of our questions tirelessly and with never a hint that we were taking too much time. He said clearly, "Thursdays are when I talk to patients and I take all the time I need.” He understood that we needed not only his very special expertise, but also a relationship with someone we could trust. John signed the consent for surgery before we left the office.
There is no doubt in my mind that the folks at the Heart Center are a team that takes great pride in what they do. Barbara efficiently made all the arrangements for the pre-operative testing on the one day that was most convenient for us. Surgery was scheduled for February 15, first case of the day at my request, and on a Monday so Jo Ann would be available all week if we needed her.
The decision still had to be made about whether or not John was a candidate for the minimally invasive procedure. Our surgeon said that consultation could be done by telephone so that we wouldn't have to travel back to Baltimore. We had one of our biggest snowstorms in years the week before surgery; however, that didn't stop him from calling my husband and me at work to talk about his recommendations. He had already spoken to Dr. Nashed, and he continued to update her after the surgery.
Fortunately, John was able to have the minimally invasive procedure. After the surgery, he spent one day in ICU. It was a scary day, but John had his own nurse, and a nurse practitioner was available as well. John spent two additional days in the cardiac step-down unit and he was discharged after only three nights in the hospital. It took four weeks for life to feel fairly normal, but we managed to enjoy time with friends and small outings almost from the day John was discharged.
Our experience was very personal from the time of the first call. I lost Barbara, the administrative assistant's, telephone number, and when I located it and called her she said she worried that we had not returned her call.
Jo Ann is a star. I knew she would be available at a moment's notice. She responds promptly to every e-mail regarding all issues, small or large. She has a no-nonsense practical approach to patient care, and the staff at the hospital had nothing but praise for her way of caring for patients.
Please also know that our overall experience at the University of Maryland Heart Center was really outstanding. John's daytime ICU nurse treated him like he was "her baby" and the night time nurse made it clear as I left around 11 p.m. that she would watch over John and keep him safe. We didn't need much nursing care once we got to the step-down unit, but the nurses were still very attentive.
I especially appreciated the nursing assistant's attention during the two days we were in step down. And, I thank the physical therapist who did the evaluation the morning after surgery before we went to step down. John was scared to even stand up, but she found a way to have him take a long walk, providing much praise along the way.
John and I both have a new lease on life. We heartily thank Jo Ann Sikora, Barbara Alston and the rest of the nurses and staff at the University of Maryland Heart Center.