09:02 AM

Billings Fire Department Captain Back to Full Strength after Open Heart Surgery

Chris Lowe


Billings Fire Department captain Chris Lowe was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect when he was just 18 years old. During a sports physical, his doctor noticed a heart murmur, and after additional testing, they determined that he had a bicuspid aortic valve.   

A typical aortic valve has three cusps (or flaps) that control blood flow. In Lowe’s case, his valve only had two. While he was young, healthy, and not experiencing any symptoms, his doctors shared that he would be okay, but eventually he may need to have his valve replaced. With a bicuspid aortic valve, as you age, there is a risk that the valve can narrow or not close tightly, reducing or interfering with blood flow through the body.   

 Lowe continued an active, healthy lifestyle, joining the Billings Fire Department in the early 2000s. He continued to see his doctor and began getting more regular echocardiograms when he was in his late 30s.    

 It was about a year ago that Lowe began noticing changes. Now 40 and with 20 years at the fire department, he regularly exercised, including attending a spin class at the YMCA. Over a couple of months, Lowe had passed out twice while exercising, once while running, and a second time after a spin class.  

“I played it off,” he said. “I made excuses like it was too hot or I was dehydrated.”  

It wasn’t until last May, while playing basketball at the station, when he passed out a third time that his colleagues transported him to St. Vincent Regional Hospital. It was then he discovered the more serious problem.  

 “I was diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis (narrowing of the valve) that was causing me to pass out,” he shared.   

Because of Lowe’s age, occupation, and active lifestyle, the heart team at St. Vincent recommended the Ross procedure.   

The Ross procedure is a type of aortic valve replacement, also known as a pulmonary autograft. During this procedure, surgeons remove the aortic valve, replace it with the patient’s pulmonary heart valve, and then replace that valve with a cadaver valve.   

 While the initial recovery took several months, including participating in cardiac rehabilitation with the team at St. Vincent, Lowe returned to light duty after two months and was cleared by August for full activity.   

During his recovery, Lowe received tremendous support from his family and friends, including his colleagues at the BFD.    

“The Fire Department family was so supportive,” he shared. “They had a meal train to the house and had folks lined up to mow the yard and help with chores. They were fantastic.”  


 Lowe is back to living as he was before his health scare and open-heart surgery, fulfilling his duties at the fire department and back at exercise classes at the YMCA. Looking back on the journey, he recommends that everyone pay attention to signs their body is telling them regardless of whether they have a heart condition.   

“When stuff happens to you, don’t just explain it away or ignore it because it could be a serious problem,” he recommended.   

 Learn more about heart health by visiting: https://connect.intermountainhealth.org/heart