After Vital Heart-Valve Surgery: ‘I’m Delighted to Have a New Start’

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October 10, 2018


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John Bakewell, a semiretired Nashville executive in the life-sciences industry, says he understands more than most the importance of finding the right doctor and hospital for medical care.

This summer, Mr. Bakewell (pictured above) tested that philosophy in a very personal way after discovering that the lightheadedness he was feeling during exercise was caused by a life-threatening aortic aneurysm near his heart.

He got to work calling a friend in the heart-valve field for referrals and learned the names of cardiac surgeons around the country capable of doing the so-called David Procedure he needed. In a highly technical and delicate open-heart operation, the David Procedure, named after the doctor who conceived it, repairs the aorta, replaces the aortic root and rebuilds the connection to the heart without replacing the aortic valve.

Preserving the native valve spares the patient a lifetime of blood-thinning medications, which can have side effects that diminish quality of life, and offers the best fix for the problem. But only about a dozen cardiac surgeons in the United States have the technical skill and experience necessary to perform a successful valve-sparing aortic root replacement.

Allan S. Stewart, M.D., the new chief of cardiac surgery at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, has performed more than 500 of these procedures — in 23 countries on five continents. A pioneer in innovative surgical techniques and treatments for conditions of the aorta, he came to the Institute recently from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He was one of the surgeons who performed former President Bill Clinton’s quadruple bypass in 2004 when on staff at New York City’s Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, and he’s also known for life-saving procedures on elite athletes, allowing them to return to full competition.

After speaking to Dr. Stewart and completing his homework, Mr. Bakewell, 57, said “it was a very easy decision.”

“Dr. Stewart was highly and uniquely qualified, number one. And chemistry is important, at least to me. And there’s got to be a good institution that backs him up. Because it’s not just one person; it’s a team.”

Mr. Bakewell, accompanied by his wife, Deborah, traveled from his home in a suburb of Nashville to Miami for the operation, which took place Aug. 30. He remained at Baptist Hospital for less than a week. “I was so impressed with the ICU,” Ms. Bakewell said, “especially that first night.”

After he left the hospital, Mr. Bakewell spent some time recuperating in a Miami Beach hotel with his family. He was able to walk a mile on the boardwalk less than a week after his surgery.

At his follow-up appointment, Dr. Stewart told Mr. Bakewell he was cured and could lead an entirely normal life without restrictions. He also explained how he had reconstructed the center of Mr. Bakewell’s heart and fixed the aortic valve, which had a severe leak.

“He can go on in his life with no blood thinners, no special medications and no limitations on his activity,” Dr. Stewart said.

Mr. Bakewell said he was grateful for being in the position to seek out the top medical care and had an “outstanding experience” at the Institute and Baptist Hospital. “I just want to say thank you to all the caregivers and the providers who worked with me.”

The danger of Mr. Bakewell’s aorta tearing was real. “That’s what caused the death of John Ritter, Lucille Ball, Albert Einstein,” Dr. Stewart said.

People with symptoms of heart failure, caused by a leaking valve, may think it’s an inevitable sign of aging or being out of shape. Dr. Stewart wants to dispel this myth and raise awareness that valve conditions can be treated and often cured.

In his first nine weeks at the Institute, among many other surgeries, Dr. Stewart performed 12 valve-sparing aortic root replacements. The overwhelmingly majority of patients came from outside Florida, including one from Greece. “People will, and quite frankly should travel for this treatment,” he said.

Dr. Stewart said Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute is committed to advancing its position as a leader in minimally invasive, multidisciplinary cardiovascular care. “Baptist Heath is experiencing a meteoric rise in cardiac surgery and we’re recruiting some of the best minds throughout the world in cardiac care.”

Dr. Stewart said he’s humbled every time a patient chooses him and Baptist Health to carry out a procedure. Mr. Bakewell “has the means to travel anywhere for his healthcare — and he chose to come here.”

A week to the day after his surgery, Mr. Bakewell told Dr. Stewart he was feeling “great.”

“My recovery is happening much faster than I expected,” he said. “I’m delighted to have a new start, and I’m thrilled to be back.”

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