On the Move Again After Bypass Surgery

January 21, 2021

Typically, we photograph every patient appearing in HealthU. Because this story was planned during the surge of COVID-19, that contact would have been too risky. Instead, our team took a creative approach and replaced photo shoots with illustrated portraits of patients.

A career in the airline industry comes with a huge perk for Carlos Guzman: the ability to fly off at a moment’s notice to dream locations, where the Rumson, New Jersey, man loves to walk for miles and soak in the scenery. But during a June 2020 trip to the Rocky Mountains, Carlos’ fun was cut short by nagging chest tightness and shortness of breath that compelled the retiree to head home.

It was a smart pivot, as the days ahead revealed advanced coronary artery disease, requiring prompt treatment by heart specialists to put the spring back in the father of two’s step.

The 62-year-old had been successfully treated 10 years earlier for atrial fibrillation, a condition producing an irregular heartbeat. Decades before, his mother required a stent to open a narrowed coronary artery.

So Carlos had long done everything possible to avoid cardiac problems, including not smoking and maintaining a normal weight.

A visit to an urgent care clinic revealed his heart was once again beating irregularly. Two days later, cardiologist Joseph Clemente, M.D., performed an echocardiogram to check heart rhythm and surrounding blood flow. The test showed Carlos again had atrial fibrillation, along with possible decreased blood flow to two walls of his heart.

“I told him he needed a cardiac catheterization that same day,” Dr. Clemente recalls. “I always treat a patient as if they’re a family member. I did not want to wait on this, and I told him that.”

Aristotelis Vlahos, M.D., director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at Riverview Medical Center, performed the procedure, which revealed three blockages, including one completely blocked artery. “Carlos’ situation is not uncommon,” Dr. Vlahos explains. “People often don’t realize how potentially sick they are because our bodies are inherently very bad at telling us what’s going on inside. No one wants a heart problem, but you don’t want your first symptom to be your last symptom.”

David Johnson, M.D., a cardiologist at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, was contacted to perform triple bypass surgery to restore proper blood flow to Carlos’ heart. During the operation, Dr. Johnson also used a special tool to freeze a portion of heart muscle that was triggering Carlos’ recurrent atrial fibrillation and clipped an area where dangerous blood clots can form.

“We work very closely with all referring cardiologists at surrounding hospitals,” Dr. Johnson says. “When I operate, I have a patient’s cardiologist come in and help manage their care. That’s very helpful for the patient, to answer questions and take care of the medical side.”

Back to walking several miles a day and taking part in his flight club, Carlos jokes that he’s been given a “new 30-year warranty” on his heart. He’s also alerting extended family members about their shared genetic predisposition to heart disease. “No heart surgery is a great experience, but my level of care was a 10 out of 10,” Carlos says. “I’m comforted that I’ve gotten a fresh start and can move forward.”

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