A heart scan Bill Pollard had on a whim saved his life

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Bill Pollard, a Bon Secours cardiac patient, tells his story of how a discounted heart scan he took led to multiple cardiac procedures, an ongoing relationship with his cardiologist, and finally a heart valve replacement.

This story has been edited for clarity, including adding medical definitions.

 In 2014 I turned 50 years old and was probably in the best shape since my college days. In 2012 I lost over 30 pounds and made exercise a priority. My grandfather died of a heart attack at the age of 49, my father had a triple bypass and valve replacement in his early 70s, and my mom had a stent put in an artery. Someone gave me a flyer about a discounted heart scan offered by Bon Secours (also called a calcium scan) to check the possibility of having plaque in my arteries, which can block arteries and lead to a heart attack. Despite being in good shape, I decided to spend the money to have the test done. A few days after the test a nurse called me and told me my calcium score was 1,100; a calcium score of 400 means there is a 90% probability of plaque build-up. I called Dr. Jun Chung, a friend who is a cardiologist with Bon Secours, and he wanted to see me immediately. He decided to do a catheterization, a procedure to diagnose and treat heart disease, which showed I was 80% blocked in an artery and three stents were put in. He also said we need to keep an eye on my aortic valve, a major part of the heart, as it had some calcification and it may need to be replaced at some point. I was running a week after the procedure and from 2014 to 2016 I ran three half marathons and my first full marathon.

In the winter of 2017 I noticed I was having to stop and catch my breath during my runs. I shared this information with my cardiologist and after a stress test to see how well my heart was working I had another catheterization showing I was 90% blocked in another artery resulting in a stent. Again my cardiologist said we need to keep an eye on my aortic valve. A few months after this procedure I again started having trouble catching my breath when I ran and it had gotten to a point that I had to take a walk break after one minute of running. However, I did not get out of breath doing yard work and other activities. In August 2018 I was playing basketball at the YMCA and after running up and down the court a few times I could not catch my breath. I contacted my cardiologist and he did a stress test followed by a catheterization which showed that my aortic valve had become more calcified. It also showed that my aortic valve was bicuspid, a congenital heart defect that can cause other heart issues.

I then met with Dr. Robert Lancey, a heart surgeon and Medical Director of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Services of the Heart and Vascular Institute at Maryview Medical Center. Dr. Lancey spent 90 minutes with my wife and me during our first visit when we decided to proceed with open heart surgery to replace my calcified and bicuspid aortic valve. We decided to use a bovine (cow) valve. On October 15, 2018 I had a four-and-a-half hour surgery to replace my aortic valve. Dr. Lancey told me my valve was one of the most calcified valves he had ever replaced and that it was having a very hard time pushing blood through my body.

The day after surgery I walked four times in the hospital. I went home on October 19, 2018. The recovery has been remarkable. I have had little pain. Thirteen days after surgery I was walking over a mile. In my first post op meeting with Dr. Lancey, he told me my chest x-ray was the best he’s ever seen of his open heart surgery patients. The prayers and support from my family and friends including my coworkers and fellow community group members has been incredible. Dr. Lancey and his medical team were the best. In the hospital he visited with me three times a day and he called me two days after I came home. I will always be grateful to Dr. Lancey for giving me a healthy heart.

I was extremely scared and nervous about the surgery. But it was not nearly as bad as I had imagined it would be. Sure, the first day after waking up us tough but every day I felt better. I’m sure it helped that I was in good physical shape. My advice if you have any of the symptoms of heart disease—no matter if you feel you are in great shape—get checked out. That decision in April 2014 probably saved my life.

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