10:33 AM

Beloved Montana sportscaster back in the booth after receiving life-saving care at St. Vincent

After 40 years as the voice and face of sports in Montana, Chris Byers had no plans to step away from his love of telling the stories of Montana athletes. Although he had scaled back to spend more time with his family, you could still find Chris anchoring the news desk, calling live sports, and producing the in-depth profiles he is known for. After a recent health scare, Byers is even more grateful to be sharing those stories once again.  

When doctors detected a heart murmur in October 2022, Byers was told that he would need to have surgery to repair heart valve stenosis. At 67 and still living an active lifestyle, Byers considered a heart valve replacement surgery that would allow for a more long-term solution to his condition, but he was concerned about having an open-heart procedure. After visiting with the heart care team at St. Vincent Healthcare, he learned that St. Vincent was now offering a minimally invasive heart valve replacement surgery.   

"The team was terrific and very honest about my options," shared Byers. "With the less invasive valve replacement, I could get back to more normal life and be done."  

“We discussed all the options, and for Chris, he decided on a less invasive approach. Exact same operation, exact same results, but through a smaller keyhole incision,” shared Dr. Simon Maltais. “This allows for a quicker and better recovery, allowing Chris to get back to doing what he loves to do.” 

Byers underwent a successful valve replacement procedure but had a rare and unexpected complication that caused fluid to develop in his lungs, putting him in a critical situation. Byers would need to be put on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) that allows the blood to be oxygenated outside the body by a heart and lung machine in critical situations when the heart and lungs need to heal. In the past, patients like Byers would have needed to be transferred out of Montana to receive this high level of care.   

Chris Byers Story2

St. Vincent has recently developed the expertise and care to provide this critical service at the hospital. Instead of being flown out of state, Byers spent the next week in the Intensive Care Unit under the care of local medical professionals and surrounded by the support of family and friends.  Byers is grateful he could stay in Montana for his care.  

"I can't imagine what it would have been like for me and my family to go through this out of state," he shared. "My wife was able to be there the whole time, and my boys were there."  

After five days, Byers' condition improved, and he was able to come off of the ECMO and the sedation. When his doctor told him what had happened, he was shocked.   

"I remember waking up and seeing Dr. Maltais standing there with my family. I couldn't believe it. He was very straightforward and explained to me what happened," he said.  

“Transporting patients out of state with ECMO is not a small endeavor,” said Dr. Maltais. “We are excited to now have the capability of keeping patients here and we were fortunate enough to be able to offer the service for Chris.” 

Because of the complication and treatment, Byers received additional care at the hospital to regain his strength and stamina to be able to return home. He attributes the encouragement from his caregivers to keeping him moving forward in his recovery.   

"They were so understanding," he shared. "It was like baby steps as I recovered. My nurses looked at me straight and told me you can do this. Because of them, I was confident that I would be okay."   

After additional weeks of recovery and finishing cardiac rehab, Chris is back at the news desk and calling live sports. He is incredibly grateful for the care he received and the ability to heal close to his home and family. He is especially thankful for St. Vincent's investments in critical and heart care that allowed him to be treated in Billings.   

"It is one thing to have the skills and technology, and it's another thing to invest in your patients," he shared. "When we moved to Billings 40 years ago, we always thought Billings had an amazing healthcare system. When we have to use the hospital, it validates why we have decided to stay."     

Learn more about our heart care and surgery services at svh.org/heart.