December 6, 2021 by John Fernandez
Boca Raton Stockbroker-Turned-Lifeguard Gets a New Lease on Life at Age 64
To look at Timothy Tritle, you’d suspect he was in tip-top physical condition. And he is. Not too many 64-year-olds can say they’re a professional lifeguard, after all. Even in his free time, he’s a physically active person who works out regularly and plays golf whenever he can.
(Watch Now: Timothy Tritle, 64, is grateful for the team at the Christine E. Lynn Heart and Vascular Institute who saved his life earlier this year. Video by George Carvalho.)
“I was a stockbroker and I worked for banks and financial institutions for 15 years but I never really liked it – I was a fish out of water,” admits Mr. Tritle, who has lived in east Boca Raton for more than 30 years. “At 45, I decided to go back to lifeguarding. I got hired by the City of Boca Raton and I’ve been there for 20 years now.”
But in spite of being fit enough to meet the considerable physical demands of the job, Mr. Tritle had a heart murmur diagnosed some years ago, an indication of a potential problem with his aortic valve. There were no physical symptoms, however, and it never affected his ability to work or to work out.
David C. Mishkel, M.D., an interventional cardiologist with Boca Raton Regional Hospital whom Mr. Tritle had been seeing for years, told him they would keep an eye on it and perhaps his aortic valve would need to be replaced at some point.
But then, before a hernia operation earlier this year, Mr. Tritle needed surgical clearance and saw Dr. Mishkel, who asked how he had been feeling. Mr. Tritle said he had been noticing heartburn while working out recently, to which Dr. Mishkel replied, “That’s not heartburn, that’s angina. It’s a precursor to a heart attack.”
Dr. Mishkel immediately scheduled his patient for an exploratory procedure in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab (Cath Lab) at the Christine E. Lynn Heart & Vascular Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, which is part of Baptist Health. Before the procedure, he explained to Mr. Tritle that there were three possible outcomes.
“You may wind up on medication such as beta-blockers,” Dr. Mishkel told him, referring to a class of drugs that are widely prescribed to treat hypertension and are a mainstay of treatment for many cardiac patients.
“Or,” Dr. Mishkel continued, “we may need to insert a coronary stent in one of your arteries.” And the third possibility? “We may need to replace your aortic valve, which would require open-heart surgery.” Neither doctor nor patient, however, would know which option would be required until the catheterization was underway.
Dr. Mishkel had already explained to Mr. Tritle the possible complications from catheterization and surgery. “There are inherent risks with any type of procedure,” Mr. Tritle acknowledges. “They rarely happen, but occasionally they do.”
In the Cath Lab
And so, on June 22, Mr. Tritle went in to the Institute’s Cath Lab for what he hoped would be a fairly routine procedure – a cardiac catheterization of both his left anterior descending (LAD) artery and his right coronary artery (RCA).
The procedure revealed significant damage, unfortunately, and a stent was inserted into his right coronary artery. During that procedure, however, Mr. Tritle’s ascending aorta dissected from where it joins his right coronary artery, a rare but not unheard of complication during this type of procedure. He was now facing a life-threatening situation that would require immediate, highly specialized surgery.
On a moment’s notice, the surgical team at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, led by Ahmad Hamzah, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Heart and Vascular Institute, sprang into action and performed emergency open-heart surgery on Mr. Tritle.
“The patient underwent endoscopic vein resection from his left leg for the bypass procedure,” Dr. Hamzah recalls. “Using 30-centimeter sections removed from Mr. Tritle’s greater saphenous vein, we did two bypass grafts – one to his left anterior descending artery and one to his right coronary artery.”
At the same time, Dr. Hamzah knew that Mr. Tritle’s heart valve was calcified and narrowed and the ascending aorta was dissected (a contained rupture in which a tear occurs in the inner layer of the aorta) and needed to be replaced immediately, along with the calcified aortic valve.
“So after completing both coronary bypasses, we implanted a new aortic valve and replaced ten centimeters of his ascending aorta,” Dr. Hamzah says. It’s a rare procedure, he adds, one that they perform at the Institute perhaps 10 to 15 times a year. “Essentially, we had to do three operations in one.”
When told later of what he had been through – angioplasty and a stent plus emergency open-heart surgery and a heart valve replacement and ascending aortic replacement – Mr. Tritle couldn’t believe it. “I understand the catheterizations and surgeries took somewhere around twelve and a half hours,” he says. “I don’t know what I’m more impressed with, Dr. Hamzah’s knowledge, his compassion or his endurance. He’s amazing.”
“I’m alive today because of them”
Mr. Tritle says that he still gets choked up thinking of his experience at Boca Raton Regional Hospital. “The ICU staff, the nurses, the custodial staff, every single person on that floor provided tremendous care and treated me with respect and compassion,” he recalls. “Things could have gone horribly wrong, but they didn’t. I’m alive today because of them.”
As for his work as a lifeguard, Mr. Tritle hopes to return to work within a few months, as good as new. “Within a week after surgery, I was already walking a mile or two a day and now I’m back to jogging a little,” says Mr. Tritle, who says his chest feels good and he’s experienced no shortage of breath.
“Soon I can start some progressive resistance exercise and get back in the pool and start swimming again, which I’m really looking forward to,” Mr. Tritle says. He’s quickly working his way back so that in another couple of months he can take his recertification test, which entails swimming 500 meters in under 10 minutes. “I can’t wait to get back to the beach,” he says.
Dr. Hamzah says Mr. Tritle is a great person and that they both have something in common. “When we first met, he told me he helped lots of people on the beach and saved lives. And I told him that I save lives, too, so in a sense we’re both lifeguards, each with our own specialty.”