Patients Grateful for Advancements in Heart Care at St. Vincent Healthcare
Throughout the past year, St. Vincent Healthcare, now part of Intermountain Health, has invested in considerable growth and innovation in heart care and treatment options for patients. By elevating the level of care, St. Vincent hopes to keep as many patients as possible close to home, providing advanced heart care services traditionally only offered at major medical centers.
Among those advancements, St. Vincent launched a new heart pump technology to keep patients with advanced heart failure in Montana for treatment. The team also began offering minimally-invasive heart valve procedures, including robotic heart surgery, and conducted the first Ross Heart procedures at St. Vincent. Two recent patients benefiting from these innovations shared how having access to this care close to home has impacted their health and recovery.
Just a few days before Christmas, Harry Bohling of Sheridan, Wyoming, was one of the first patients to benefit from robotic-assisted heart surgery at St. Vincent that can decrease recovery time and lower the risk of infection and pain after the surgery. Through the technology, St. Vincent heart surgeons now offer minimally invasive heart valve surgery as an alternative to a traditional open-heart procedure. Since October, St. Vincent has performed six robotically assisted heart surgeries.
“I was having a lot of symptoms, including lack of energy and motivation and difficulty breathing when I was going upstairs,” shared Bohling. “After several tests, it was determined that I had a leaky (heart) valve.”
A “leaky” heart valve occurs when a valve isn’t closing properly, allowing blood to leak through. This can lead to blood not properly flowing through the body. Symptoms can vary in severity, and they can cause a risk of heart failure or cardiac arrest.
Bohling was referred to the heart team at St. Vincent for a consultation. After meeting with Dr. John H. Braxton, cardiothoracic surgeon, and the heart surgery team, they determined he would be a good candidate for robotic-assisted valve repair.
With a robotic procedure, the surgeons make small incisions and insert robotic arms, cameras and instruments into the chest, allowing them to perform some of the same procedures that traditionally required open-heart surgery. Robotic technology provides for greater visualization and dexterity. The primary benefit is to the patient and their recovery because it is minimally invasive.
“It’s a big deal to have folks poking around in your heart. They gave me peace of mind,” shared Bohling about meeting with Dr. Simon Maltais, a cardiac surgeon at St. Vincent. “He instilled a lot of confidence that they would be able to repair the heart valve. I was also able to learn more about his background and how qualified he is.”
Bohling shared that he gave himself the gift of “a new heart” this Christmas, and after waking up from a successful surgery surrounded by his wife and daughter, he was relieved and happy to have a new start.
Bohling is now back home in Sheridan and undergoing cardiac rehab to improve his strength, flexibility, and stamina. He had a follow-up echocardiogram after the surgery and showed no indications of leakage.
Bohling and his wife moved to Sheridan two and half years ago from California to be closer to family and were so pleased to receive this advanced level of care close to home.
“We love it here! It was wonderful timing that St. Vincent is now offering this level of heart care,” said Bohling.
Dr. Simon Maltais shared his excitement about now offering these procedures to patients in the region. “Traditionally, these procedures have been done at major medical centers on the west coast or east coast of the U.S. We are pleased that we can now be a leading center for our region and offer access to this innovative care.”
“Many family members visit the hospital to support their loved ones undergoing the intervention. So not needing to travel out of state enhances the patient’s recovery and ability to get better with their full support network intact.”
“If I had to go through this, I am glad it was at St. Vincent”
Most people wouldn’t be thankful for cracked ribs. But when Kevin Baar slipped and injured himself while on a fishing trip, doctors identified a potentially fatal heart defect. After a life-changing diagnosis and heart surgery, Baar is thankful for his innovative care at St. Vincent.
“It really was a blessing in disguise. All I did was go fishing, and I ended up with open-heart surgery – and I only caught one Pike,” Baar joked when recounting his story.
After seeing his doctors for a follow-up appointment after his accident, they discovered two serious issues with his heart while reviewing the imaging of his ribs. Baar not only had an aortic aneurysm, but they also found that he had a congenital heart condition that would require open heart surgery.
“They called me in and said you need open heart surgery,” said Baar. “It was quite a shock because I had no previous symptoms or other health problems.”
For Baar, he was going to need an aortic valve replacement. When discussing the options with the heart team at St. Vincent, they recommended an innovative procedure that St. Vincent is now performing at the hospital.
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 own pulmonary heart valve, and then replace that valve with a cadaver valve. Patients that undergo the Ross procedure may continue to live an active lifestyle, maintain a good quality of life, and are less likely to experience heart failure. Baar was the second patient to undergo the procedure at St. Vincent. The surgeons were also able to remove the aneurysm.
“What was important to me was to be able to continue what I have been doing,” said Baar. “They said you should have normal heart function after the surgery, and I am definitely meeting that goal.”
After undergoing the procedure on November 10, Baar began working with the cardiac rehab team to get back to full strength.
“I can’t say enough about the rehab crew,” said Baar. “They were my best cheerleaders with a very positive outlook on everything. I also want to thank my friends, neighbors and family, especially my brother, who were with me through the entire process.”
After completing rehab, Baar is now focused on returning to everyday healthy life, continuing his regular exercise routine at home. He returned to work on January 9 and recently took a vacation to Mexico.
Thankful for the compassionate and innovative care he received, Baar can reflect on his experience with gratitude, “If I had to go through this, I am glad it was at St. Vincent.”
“No one wants to have surgery, but when you need it, you want it done well and at the right institution. St. Vincent is that institution. We have enhanced the patient's experience through robotics and advanced procedures that improve their recovery,” said Dr. Braxton. “It’s world-class healthcare right at home.”