Gaining a Healthy Heart

Norman John, 55, is an active outdoorsman, but if you had asked him how much hunting and fishing he was doing early last year, he would have told you his severe mitral valve disease and irregular heart rhythm made it impossible to do any.

But after Anthony Caffarelli, M.D., the Newkirk Family Endowed Chair in Aortic Care and director of Hoag Cardiovascular Surgery and Hoag’s Aortic Center, repaired his leaking heart valve and corrected his fast, irregular heart rhythm in June 2018, it’s a different story for the Alaska resident.

“After the surgery, I can now walk nonstop from my house to work, which is three quarters of a mile,” Norman said. “In the past, I couldn’t walk 500 feet without having to catch my breath. I tired easily and had irregular heartbeats.”

Norman, who lives with his wife of 32 years in Kwigillingok, a small village in Southwest Alaska, works as a technician with a telecommunications corporation. After feeling unusually fatigued, weak and short of breath, his cardiologist in Alaska recommended that he have surgery to fix his leaking mitral valve. He was referred to Hoag’s Jeffrey M. Carlton Heart & Vascular Institute in Newport Beach, Calif. as its reputation as an outstanding U.S. hospital with a premier valve surgery repair program has long drawn patients from around the world.

Because Norman was only able to be in Newport Beach for a short amount of time before and after surgery, the coordination of care and testing was paramount. Prior to his arrival, Hoag thoroughly reviewed his records and blood work to avoid any delays. After nearly two days of travel to reach Hoag from his home, Norman met with his physician team, Dr. Caffarelli and Richard Haskell, M.D., an interventional cardiologist, to prepare for surgery.

Norman underwent a complex mitral valve repair by Dr. Caffarelli. He also treated Norman’s irregular heart rhythm with a MAZE procedure, which included closing his left atrial appendage, which is where blood can pool and cause an increased risk for stroke.

After the success of his surgery, Norman said he felt euphoric and that he is slowly returning back to work. He has a formal follow-up in Anchorage and has plans to return to his long-time hobby of catching fish.

“My first impression of the Hoag staff was that they treated me like a person, a person who needed help,” Norman said. “Everyone was so fabulous – they all were informative and personal, and they explained to me what I had. They let me know what needed to be done and I was so impressed by how much information they gave me. They cared for me emotionally, too.”

When considering travel for surgery, Norman said a primary factor in selecting Hoag was learning that the preeminent cardiovascular center on the West Coast not only delivered innovative technology and treatment, but also was committed to providing exceptional patient care. Confidence in his physician team’s expertise and ability went a long way toward giving him and his wife peace of mind.

The staff members also demonstrated compassion and a thoughtful approach in diligently arranging precautionary measures during his critical and challenging discharge plan.

Norman, who lives in a rural and remote city without any roads, would have to have taken a plane ride to go to the nearest pharmacy, and two flights to get to the closest hospital and see his cardiologist. Hoag’s clinical nurse specialist, Karen O’Connell, R.N., M.N., C.C.N.S., utilized her 30 years of heart surgery experience and preplanned accordingly to anticipate any health care issue he could have run into at home.

“I’m doing a lot better thanks to the physicians and staff at Hoag,” Norman said. “I feel amazing and no longer have to walk long distances without having to take a break. I would recommend Hoag to everybody because they are the best in evaluating and treating all heart conditions. They treat patients as people. I would give a pat on the back to everyone there.”

For more information, call 888-802-8209.