How I spent my summer vacation:
Having triple bypass open heart
Don’t think McLaren Bay Region microbiologist John Hebert wasn’t needled about
taking the summer off. Of course, those needling him weren’t in an operating
suite, having their chest cavity opened, veins cut from their leg, and stitched
in to "bypass" coronary arteries with 90% blockages. They weren’t held hostage
by John’s daughter, who drove him to appointments for four weeks post-surgery.
They weren’t walking the treadmill and pedaling the Aerodyne bicycle at cardiac
rehabilitation. They weren’t coming face-to-face with their own mortality.
John knew he’d had some role in this extended, not-so-pleasant summer
- He had not seen a physician in 23 years. "It’s a guy
thing. I thought I was in reasonably good shape, not overweight, didn’t smoke,
and hardly ever sick -- so there was no reason to go to the doctor."
- His paternal grandfather died at 62, when two 100%
blocked coronary arteries stopped blood from circulating through his body
- He’d had some early warning signs prior to his heart
catheterization and open heart surgery on June 27, 2005. "Starting early in
2005, I just hadn’t been feeling quite right. I’d come home and take a ‘power
nap’ to get jump-started again. I’d gone out one evening and done some
snowblowing. I felt a burning chest pain. I came inside, and it went away in
45 minutes, and I attributed it the spaghetti dinner not settling well."
- In March, John started feeling a dull ache in his left arm – mostly at
work, but other times, too. "It didn’t seem to happen on exertion, and it
wasn’t until early June that I mentioned this feeling to Dr. (Dennis) Spender,
the lab medical director, and Dr. (Robert) Holmes, cardiovascular surgeon.
They could hardly believe I hadn’t seen a doctor in over two decades. They
both strongly urged me to find a primary care physician and get a work-up done
Dutifully, John made an appointment with internist Mohamed Ali, M.D. "I had
my blood cholesterol tested and it was 300 – not good. He ordered a thallium
stress test, which I failed. When Dr. Ali saw the results, he called and told me
to be in his office first thing the next morning. He told me he had arranged for
Dr. (Japhet) Joseph to do a cardiac catheterization the same day. I had no idea
things could get this critical so quickly.
"The cath lab tests showed 90% blockages in three areas, and a 68% blockage
in another area. The major blockages ran almost the full length of the arteries.
I was told if I didn’t have open heart surgery, there was a 99.9% chance I’d
have a major heart attack, and they were surprised I hadn’t had one by now.
"I called my wife from my hospital bed, and told her the news wasn’t good. I
hadn’t really said too much because I was in denial that all this was happening.
She and my two children came in, and I realized I was having this surgery as
much for them, as for me. Dr. Holmes did my 4½ hour surgery, and it went very
well. There was no damage to the heart muscle.
"I had complete trust in Dr. Holmes, and the nursing care was just superb. I
don’t think my care was any different because I’ve spent my entire career at Bay
Regional. The hospital has consistently had exceptional outcomes for open heart
surgeries, and quality patient care. I was home in three days. Tired and weak,
but home. Aside from rehabilitation, the hardest thing was giving my heart time
to heal. That means rest, and I’m a pretty active person.
"Seven weeks later, I was back at work. That felt good – like things were
returning to normal. I continue my daily exercise. I’d always been a pretty
healthy eater – but now I’m overly cautious. No eggs in the morning, no
chocolate snacks from the gift shop, and no half-gallon of ice cream, consumed
over a three-day period. All of that is, gone, gone, gone. I’m on a
cholesterol-lowering medication, and my total blood cholesterol is down to
"I think we all go through events like this for a reason. Maybe my reason is
to encourage everyone, but especially men, to have a family doctor and get a
physical once a year. Pay attention to what health concerns are in your family
history. If it’s heart disease, start getting your cholesterol tested early. I
was a smoker earlier in life, and I quit. And, think of the life you’ll be
missing out on, and how selfish it would be, not to be there for your family and
friends. Heart disease really is a big deal. I know I don’t want to spend
another summer like 2005."