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Celebrating years of open heart care at Mercy Medical Center

Celebrating years of open heart care at Mercy Medical Center
John (Rusty) Fritz, Mercy Medical Center’s first open heart patient with Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeon C.C. Lee, MD, FACS

Mowing your lawn without a burning sensation in your chest, going for a walk without being out of breath and being able to take care of yourself without help are everyday things that are often taken for granted. For heart patients, it can simply be their goals.

John (Rusty) Fritz was experiencing a burning sensation in his chest while mowing his lawn in 2017. As an active person, he thought it was strange since he hadn’t felt it before. Then, his legs started feeling tingly like they were falling asleep. Because of his symptoms, his daughters encouraged him to see his primary care provider.

Rusty was referred to the Mercy Cardiology Clinic by his primary care provider, where he had a heart catheterization procedure completed. During the procedure, a catheter goes up through a blood vessel to the heart to understand what condition the heart is in. The results showed his arteries in his heart needed to be repaired; he needed coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) – open heart surgery – to restore the blood flow to his heart.

Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeon C.C. Lee, MD, FACS, completed the CABG procedure.

As the first open heart patient for Mercy, Rusty was honored and completely trusted Dr. Lee.

“I was more than confident with the team,” Rusty said. “They did such a wonderful job.”

Soon after his procedure, mowing the lawn was no big deal for Rusty. He returned to his normal routine of handling the upkeep on his acreage.

Now, five years later, Rusty is looking forward to getting married in May 2023 to his fiancé, Aimee. The pair met in 2021 and since then, have led busy lives. The retired couple enjoy camping as often as the weather allows and are a part of the Cedar Rapids Corvette Club.

Since his CABG procedure, Rusty has recommended Dr. Lee and Mercy’s heart team to anyone he knows who has heart problems. As has Wanda Rutan, who had a CABG procedure completed by Dr. Lee in 2018.

Wanda’s fate began in February 2018 while watching T.V., where she’d often see Mercy Heart Center commercials about Dr. Lee. She felt a sense of trust and confidence in Dr. Lee’s abilities.

“I prayed to the Lord that if I ever had heart issues, that I wanted him [Dr. Lee] to be my doctor,” Wanda said.

At the time, Wanda didn’t have a history of heart issues, but after her surprise 80th birthday party in April 2018, she took her blood pressure, like she does every day, but this time, it was very high. She was also experiencing some chest pain. So, Wanda called her primary care provider, Kristin Gisselman, DO, who told her to go to the emergency room right away.

Because her blood pressure was very concerning, Wanda had the heart catheterization procedure completed once she came to Mercy’s Emergency Department, which showed she also needed open heart surgery.

After her procedure, Wanda recovered in the hospital until she gained her strength back to go home.

“Dr. Lee came to visit me every day,” Wanda said. “He’s the best doctor in the world.”

Once she was discharged from Mercy’s Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit, Wanda had Mercy’s Home Health visit her and her family was also there to take care of her around the clock.

When rating the importance of people in her life, Wanda said, “The good Lord comes first, then Dr. Lee and then my family.”

To keep up with the accomplishments of her surgeon, Dr. Lee, and the construction of the Jewel & Jim Plumb Heart Center at Mercy set to open in 2023, Wanda has kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings. She enjoys seeing how the heart program is progressing and is excited to see the Plumb Heart Center once it’s finished.

“The Plumb Heart Center will be a comprehensive cardiovascular center where patients can have all their doctor visits, as well as diagnostic tests completed in one area,” Dr. Lee said. “Our heart program has seen tremendous growth since its inception; every year, we see more and more patients which leads to performing more procedures.”

Progress and expanding the heart program is important, but it’s the special connection with patients, like Wanda, that is the most meaningful to Dr. Lee.

Similar to Wanda, Gail Gunderson didn’t have a history of heart issues, so she was surprised when she learned that she also needed the CABG procedure.

“I was having trouble with my hips, so I had X-rays done that showed arthritis in both hips and something wrong vascularly,” Gail said.

After the X-rays were reviewed and heart catheterization was completed in October 2022, Dr. Lee recommended the CABG procedure based on those results. Gail noted it wasn’t even a week later between the heart catheterization and having open heart surgery, which she and her family were happy about the quick turnaround.

“They used the heart pillow diagram to explain the procedure,” Gail said. “One of my nurses, Kamia, signed it for me. She was one of the best nurses I’ve ever had; she had such a good sense of humor.”

Given Gail’s procedure was recent and her age – 86 years old – Gail gradually recovered until she was ready to work with Mercy’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Services. While she was taking things slow, Gail’s time was spent with her family, two cats – Aela and Phil – and games on her iPad.

Now, Gail works with the Cardiac Rehabilitation Services where she is regaining and building her strength, which reduces the risk of future heart problems. She’s been able to return to her normal outings, such as driving herself to her church’s prayer group, as well as meeting friends for coffee.

Mercy’s three-star rating for CABG surgery from The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) is the culmination of advanced technology, expertise and compassionate care coming together. It’s also representative of why Rusty, Wanda and Gail’s health has improved. Mercy’s open heart program has earned the STS three-star rating multiple times since opening. Less than 10% of open heart programs in the U.S. earn the STS three-star distinction.

While the circumstances of each heart patient vary, Mercy’s heart team is dedicated to delivering exceptional detection, treatment and care for all of them, meeting their unique needs to deliver the best outcomes getting back to living life to its fullest.