Ted Schleicher of Tomah, Wisconsin, was feeling fine when he went to his annual physical with his health care provider. But he left with a surprise: the news that he had a heart murmur.
"I had been more tired than before, but I thought it was because I was getting older," says Ted, 73. "Hindsight being what it is, I can see that it was more."
Ted was referred to Michael Meyers, M.D., a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where two procedures were completed to determine the cause of his heart murmur.
"Mr. Schleicher's heart murmur was caused by mitral valve prolapse resulting in severe mitral regurgitation," says Dr. Meyers.
Every time Ted's heart contracted, some of his blood was flowing backward through the mitral valve located between the left atrium and the left ventricle of his heart.
Dr. Meyers explains that fatigue while exercising is a common symptom of this condition. He says other symptoms include shortness of breath, fainting, chest discomfort, palpitations and leg swelling (edema).
"When Dr. Meyers told us, our jaws just dropped," says Ted's wife, Wanda. "It was definitely a surprise."
Ted was referred to Nishant Saran, M.B.B.S., a cardiovascular surgeon at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The heart care practices in La Crosse and Eau Claire have worked together to provide coordinated heart care for patients across western Wisconsin.
"The relationship we have with Dr. Saran, Dr. [Robert] Wiechmann, and Dr. [Thomas] Carmody in Eau Claire is very good," says Dr. Meyers. "The consultation process is well-streamlined, and I speak directly with the surgeon to share my concerns. They have always facilitated quick consultation with the patient."
That was the experience for Ted, as he and Wanda traveled to Eau Claire in early March to meet with Dr. Saran and hear the treatment plan.
"One of my friends had his surgery done by Dr. Saran," says Ted. "He said it was good, so that lowered my concerns."
"Mr. Schleicher's mitral valve regurgitation was severe enough to warrant surgery," says Dr. Saran. "Left untreated, this condition can cause heart failure or heart rhythm problems."
However, between this appointment and his surgery date in early April, the COVID-19 pandemic changed how health care was delivered. Ted's surgery was deferred for four days while the surgery team in Eau Claire developed new processes and made changes to protect patient and staff safety during the pandemic.
"Not all non-COVID health care could stop during this time, and there are patients whose conditions required surgical interventions," says Dr. Saran. "Our team took the necessary steps to reduce as much as possible the risk of COVID-19 exposure for patients who need urgent surgical procedures, like Mr. Schleicher."
Ted was the first Mayo Clinic Health System patient in Wisconsin to have his surgery completed following the new processes. This included being tested for COVID-19 in addition to the other standard pre-surgery exam and tests. Ted completed the COVID-19 test in La Crosse but needed to drive to Eau Claire for the pre-surgery exam.
"He drove himself up to Eau Claire on Easter Sunday [the day prior to his surgery]," says Wanda. "There was a snowstorm, and the only time we had bad weather this spring was that day when he needed to drive."
Ted returned to Eau Claire in the early morning hours of April 13 and was met at the front door of the hospital by a member of the Mayo Clinic Health System Security team.
"He asked, 'Are you Ted? I'm here to bring you to surgery,'" says Ted. "And then he parked my truck for me. That was nice."
Ted's surgery began at 8 a.m., and even though Wanda could not be with him due to visitor restrictions, she was kept updated by the team.
"I got phone calls at 8 a.m. and just about every hour or two all day and into the evening," says Wanda. "The team did a very good job at keeping me updated. I think they were even calling from inside the surgery area at first."
Ted's surgery was a success, and soon he was in recovery.
"We repaired his mitral valve and did two bypasses," Dr. Saran says. "His postoperative recovery was very smooth and completely uneventful."
Ted remained in the hospital for five days after his surgery, and Wanda continued to receive calls from his care team about his status.
When Ted was able to go home, he was picked up by Wanda and their two children. Since that time, he has been completing cardiac rehab while recovering at home.
"Walking is a big thing, and I have ridden the stationary bike too," says Ted. "Getting outside makes me feel good, so I try to do that as much as possible."
Having a significant surgery in the middle of a pandemic is not what Ted imagined for 2020, but he is happy that it worked out.
"I have nothing but good things to say about everyone that I can remember," says Ted. "They were under pressure because my surgery was the first in the new area, but they were so good and worked together."
The care team is flattered by his praise.
"It's a team effort," says Dr. Saran. "Stories like Mr. Schleicher’s, while unique, are a testament to the resilient spirit of the Mayo system and our community — one that shows that we as a team would continue to rise to any challenge to provide best possible care to our patients."