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Routine checkup leads to lifesaving heart surgery
Brian Schilling didn’t know anything was wrong when he went in for his regular physical.
“I didn’t notice anything different,” says Brian, a 63-year-old Eau Claire, Wisconsin, resident. “I didn’t feel sick.”
But, unbeknownst to Brian, there was a problem lurking in one of the valves in his heart.
During a physical with his primary care physician, the provider could hear an abnormal sound. Instead of the normal lub-dub sound of a heartbeat, it was a whooshing sound. His doctor referred Brian to cardiologist Andrew Calvin, M.D., who ordered an echocardiogram — an ultrasound for the heart.
Brian elected not to mention the issue or the test to his wife, who was going on a weeklong trip.
“I figured the test would turn out fine,” Brian says.
But it didn’t. The test showed Brian’s heart murmur was a sign of a dangerous condition.
“We saw that his heart function was slightly abnormal,” says Dr. Calvin. “His mitral valve appeared partially broken and was leaking.”
Dr. Calvin performed a second echo test, called a transesophageal echocardiogram, which gives a 3-D picture of the heart valve. This showed that, indeed, there was a broken heart valve.
“Left untreated, his heart would have gradually weakened and he would have become progressively short of breath,” Dr. Calvin says. “The condition would eventually have taken his life.”
Brian underwent a minimally invasive mitral valve repair, using just a 1 ½-inch incision on his upper chest, which allowed him to recover more quickly.
“It was unbelievable how quickly I felt better,” says Brian, who was back to working half days by week four and full time by week five. After completing a 12-week cardiac rehabilitation program, he says he now is more active than before the surgery.
If there is one lesson people take away from Brian’s story, it should be the importance of having regular checkups. After age 50, you should have a checkup once a year to do a review of all the body’s systems to see if there have been any changes and to detect if any issues have arisen.
Dr. Calvin says bringing a patient successfully through all of those stages — from the initial diagnosis to the echocardiogram, the surgery and rehabilitation — takes the cooperation of many dedicated professionals.
“Medicine is a team sport,” Dr. Calvin says.
Brian has praise for the team who brought him through his long journey to better health.
“Had they not caught it as early as they did, I could have had significant heart problems,” says Brian. “I was comforted, knowing the team here and the experience they had. I went into it believing it would be OK and I would be in good hands.”
Brian calls the experience a wake-up call, reminding him to take some time to enjoy life. For him, that means spending time with his wife, son, daughter and granddaughter, and boating and fishing.
“You need to keep it all in balance,” Brian says.
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