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Mercy heart patient gets a second chance at life

Avid golfer returns to course after advanced heart procedure

Mercy heart patient gets a second chance at life
Mercy Medical Center’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Services working with patient Jim Thacker

Jim Thacker always enjoyed breathing in the fresh smell of cut grass and feeling the cool breeze and the warmth of the sun during a round of golf.

Then one day he started experiencing dizzy spells.

In 2012 a local cardiologist told Jim that he had a heart murmur and his aortic valve was thickening, and he would need an echocardiogram once a year to monitor the thickening.

Jim transferred his care to Mercy Medical Center in 2020 after researching Mercy’s cardiologists and their approach to care and quality.

He began seeing Carrie Bayles, ARNP, at MercyCare Edgewood, who referred Jim to Mercy Cardiologist Amandeep Dhaliwal, MD, FACC, because of Jim’s heart history.

After a series of tests, Dr. Dhaliwal detected his heart murmur and confirmed the start of aortic valve stenosis in 2020.

“Aortic valve stenosis is a narrowing of the aortic valve opening,” Dr. Dhaliwal said. “Aortic stenosis restricts the flow of blood from the pumping chamber of the heart to the body. This can cause the heart to work harder to pump blood and make you tired, short of breath or dizzy.”

Initially the condition required close monitoring of Jim’s heart through regular echocardiograms and check-ups with Dr. Dhaliwal.

By May 2022, the aortic stenosis had progressed. As a result, Jim began experiencing dizzy spells and light-headedness more frequently. Dr. Dhaliwal completed an echocardiogram and concluded that Jim’s aortic valve stenosis had advanced to severe, which meant it was time to operate. To repair Jim’s heart, Dr. Dhaliwal recommended the transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure.

The TAVR procedure is a minimally invasive procedure to replace the aortic valve in patients who have severe aortic valve stenosis without going through open-heart surgery. The TAVR procedure is done through a catheter with access through the groin; the doctor replaces the aortic valve with a new valve to allow blood to flow as it should, ultimately relieving symptoms caused by aortic stenosis and improving the patient’s quality of life. Through the TAVR procedure, the patient typically experiences less pain or discomfort, and recovers more quickly, than they would with the traditional open-heart surgery.

Before his procedure, Jim met with TAVR Coordinator Richard Joens to have pre-operation tests completed. Richard’s role is to help the patient navigate the procedure by conducting the lead-up and follow-up to the TAVR procedure. He explains the TAVR procedure and provides informational materials to the patient and family; guides patients to their appointments; is in the operating room during the procedure and updates the family on the progress; and sees patients in recovery, as well as follow-up appointments.

Following Richard’s pre-operative tests, Cardiologist Ryan Hollenbeck, MD, FACC, FSCAI, operated with Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeon C.C. Lee, MD, FACS, on July 20. Dr. Hollenbeck and Dr. Lee are Co-Medical Directors of the Jewel & Jim Plumb Heart Center at Mercy.

“Cardiology has their own OR setup,” Jim said. “They took me in the OR at 8:05, started the procedure at 8:20 and were done by 9:20.”

The next day, Jim felt healthy and blessed.

“I woke up the next morning, and I could feel my heart pumping,” Jim said with tears in his eyes. “I get emotional about it.”

Even though he was recovering, Jim felt ready to get up and move the day after the procedure. As an active person, he missed being on his feet. After Dr. Lee confirmed that his incision area was healing well, Jim was given permission to get out of bed and walk.

Jim had the procedure on a Wednesday, was discharged on Thursday and was sitting in church with his wife by Sunday.

“Everyone was surprised to see me in church that same week,” Jim said. “Dr. Hollenbeck said I could go on walks but no driving or weightlifting [immediately after the procedure]. So, I walk my dog.”

To help his heart recover, Jim worked with Mercy’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Services twice a week for a total of 10 sessions, where he walked on the treadmill, peddled on a stationary bike and lifted weights while wearing a heart monitor for the nurses and exercise specialist to oversee as he moved. Before, during and after he exercised, Jim’s blood pressure was taken to monitor any abnormalities.

“My energy level is amazing,” Jim said. “A year ago, I would be tired and short of breath after 18 holes and had to eventually go to nine holes. But, on August 20, I played 18 holes and felt great. I’ve been playing 18 holes ever since.”

When it’s too chilly outside for a round of golf, Jim exercises by taking his dog on walks or using his treadmill at home. His goal is to walk three miles each day.

“I’m 80 years old, and I feel like I got a second chance at life,” Jim said. “My quality of life is good.”

During a follow-up appointment a few weeks after Jim’s TAVR procedure, Dr. Hollenbeck conducted an echocardiogram to check on the new heart valve. Jim received a glowing review on his progress.

“Dr. Hollenbeck said there’s no leakage, and I couldn’t ask for a better outcome,” Jim said.

Later Jim had follow-up appointments with Richard Joens. During one appointment, Richard asked Jim if he was experiencing any limitations or issues, and Jim was proud to say he was feeling great.

“I’m very satisfied with my quality of life now,” Jim said. “As an active person, I’m happy to be able to golf and walk my dog.”

If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, dizzy spells or heart pain, talk to your primary care physician to determine the source of the problem.