back in action after open heart surgery | Heart surgery

Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, heredity is heredity, says Sutton, 58, of Independence Township.

A major procedure leads to an exceptional result.

Nothing fills Doyle Sutton with energy like a day of strength training and cardio at the gym. He had always hoped that staying in shape could help him prevent a heart attack, a health emergency that claimed the lives of his mother and two of his sisters.

“Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, heredity is heredity,” says Sutton, 58, of Independence Township.

His heart problems began early last year when he was unable to maintain his usual high level of activity. “I was going to the gym, I was working in the yard and I noticed that it was a little harder to breathe,” he says. “I thought I was overdoing it, that maybe I was too old to work like this.”

Worried, Sutton visited his primary care physician, who diagnosed a heart murmur and referred him to cardiologist Darshan Godkar, MD, medical director, radial program, at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center (CBMC).

Looking for a cause

Among the tests requested by the cardiologist was a CT scan of the heart to measure the amount of calcium accumulated in the arteries. A score between 100 and 300 means that a moderate amount of calcium is present. A score above 300 indicates severe coronary artery disease (CAD), which is a narrowing or blockage of the major blood vessels that supply the heart. It also indicates a high risk of heart attack.

“My score was around 1,000,” says Sutton. “Dr. Godkar said he almost fell off his chair when he saw it.

Dr. Godkar referred Sutton to Arash Salemi, MD, clinical chair of cardiothoracic surgery at RWJBarnabas Health, professor of surgery at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and member of the RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group. Dr. Salemi performed additional tests which revealed that Sutton also had aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the aortic valve.

“The aortic valve acts as a doorway that sits between the heart and the rest of the body,” says Dr. Salemi. The opening should be as wide as a silver dollar, he explains, but Sutton’s was smaller than a penny. “It meant that when he exercised his heart pumped well – his heart muscle was as strong as a marathon runner’s – but his narrowed valve limited the amount of blood flowing through his body,” he says.

Further tests revealed that a tight blockage had formed in his left main coronary artery. “More than 75 percent of patients with severe aortic stenosis like Doyle’s have some degree of blockage in their coronary arteries,” says Dr. Salemi.

open heart surgery

“Dr. Salemi reassured me when I talked to him,” Sutton says. “He’s super nice.” But he still wasn’t sure if he wanted to follow Dr. Salemi’s proposed treatment: open-heart surgery. “Luckily my wife, Sharon, pushed me to do it,” Sutton says.

On February 10, Dr. Salemi performed the operation at CBMC, replacing Sutton’s faulty valve with a new valve made from bovine (cow) tissue. He also performed two bypasses around Sutton’s blocked arteries to restore his coronary blood flow. Five days later, Sutton was back home.

Sutton then took a full course of cardiac rehab, slowly increasing her exercise tolerance to strengthen her heart.

Moreover, he remained active on his own. “I have a two-acre property, and I was raking leaves and pushing my mower just weeks after surgery,” he says. “I did it in small steps over several days.”

Today, he’s ready to head back to the gym and resume his job as a shipping and receiving manager for a specialty chemical company. “Doyle had a great attitude both pre-op and post-op,” says Dr. Salemi. “It has a new engine. He can go out and do whatever he wants.

On the road to recovery, Sutton shares a potentially life-saving message with friends and colleagues. “I recommend people get their physical exam and a full cardiovascular checkup,” he says. “It’s the best way to find out if something is wrong with your heart so you can fix it.”

Treatment options for coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is usually caused by a buildup of plaque that narrows the arteries over time.

  • For moderate coronary artery disease, doctors may prescribe medical treatment, including statins to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol levels, and aspirin to thin the blood and improve circulation.
  • For coronary artery disease causing one or two blockages, percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), a minimally invasive approach, may be recommended. A doctor will use a catheter (a thin tube) to place a stent (a small mesh tube). “A stent pushes plaque back and restores blood flow,” says Arash Salemi, MD, clinical chair of cardiothoracic surgery at RWJBarnabas Health.
  • For CAD that involves multiple blocked vessels or blocked vessels in high-risk areas of the heart, open-heart surgery, in which the chest wall and sternum are cut to allow access to the heart, may be recommended.

Although open heart surgery is the most invasive treatment option, it is also very effective. “The operation has been perfected over time,” says Dr. Salemi, “so we consistently achieve exceptional results, even with the most complex surgeries.”

Whoever your heart beats for, our hearts beat for you. Connect with a leading cardiovascular expert at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center.