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Heart Disease in Disguise

Published on Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Heart disease does not have to be as dramatic as chest pains or even a heart attack, just ask Mike Farrell, age 74, of Lapeer. For Mike it was much more subtle and slow as it crept up on him. Mike was aware that he had high blood pressure but it was being medically monitored by his doctor. He was also told approximately five years ago that he had a heart murmur caused by a valve in his heart that was slowly shrinking; it too was being monitored. What started to change was his breathing. He simply started getting short of breath when walking. It continued to grow worse over the course of almost eight months before he made an appointment to see his cardiologist, Majed Nounou, MD, FACC, RPVI.

“I can’t say I had a particular episode of any kind,” states Mike. “But I knew my breathing was not getting any better and I needed to see a doctor. When I met with Dr. Nounou he scheduled me for a heart cath and discovered I had some arteries that were very narrowed because of too much plaque. With those findings, and my damaged valve, Dr. Nounou said I needed to see a cardiothoracic surgeon.”

Mike was referred to Omar Habib, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon, who sees patients at McLaren Flint. Dr. Habib determined Mike needed both his aortic valve replaced because of the narrowing, and coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). He was scheduled for surgery on December 8, 2016.

“The heart is divided into four main chambers,” states Dr. Habib. “The aortic valve separates the pumping chamber of the heart from the rest of the body. With every heartbeat, the valve opens and closes to ensure that blood travels in only one direction. In Mike’s case, the valve was narrowed and not opening enough to allow blood to leave the heart and perfuse the rest of the body. As a result, he started to feel more and more short of breath. This condition is called aortic stenosis. Mike also had three arteries in his heart which were blocked. Unfortunately, placement of a stent to open them up was not an option. He needed bypass surgery as well. This is when we take a piece of vein or artery from the body and use it to graft around the blocked portion of the artery. We are essentially creating a new path for blood to flow to the heart.”

Mike’s continued recovery is cardiac rehabilitation
Bill Kehoe needed to find a cardiologist

If this sounds like a major surgery, it is. Mike spent a week in the hospital during his initial recovery stage. As is normal, he went home with temporary lifting restrictions and no driving for a few weeks.  He continues to feel better and better each week and is back to driving again.

“I really appreciate the way Dr. Habib spoke to me and took the time to explain everything before and after surgery,” states Mike. “Amy, the nurse who works with Dr. Habib really knows what she is doing, she was also good about explaining things to me, and the nurses on the 12th floor took really good care of me when I was in the hospital. I am also grateful for the support of my wife and family. Two of my daughters and both of my sisters came from out-of-state to be with me.”

An important part of Mike’s continued recovery is cardiac rehabilitation which he began January 25 at McLaren Flint’s sister hospital McLaren Lapeer Region. There he will spend time three times per week, for a total of 12 weeks, getting his body and muscles back in shape. He will also have discussions with the staff regarding the medications he is on and about eating a heart healthy diet. Mike has already lost 20 pounds since his operation and is looking forward to losing even more weight.

His cardiac rehab should wrap up shortly after spring begins, allowing him to start taking walks through the woods again with his English Setter Sara. For Mike, that will surely be a healthy breath of fresh air.