After valve replacement surgery, Richard Howell is back working in his yard.
Through the 'Keyhole'
Small-incision heart surgery at St. Anthony's keeps retired Naval aviation pilot active
At his home in South St. Louis County, Richard Howell busies himself with yard work, taking time every once in a while to smell the roses when they're in season.
A long-retired Naval aviation pilot, Howell still keeps his military fitness regimen top of mind with daily walks, stretches and pushups.
“I can't say I'm really ever bored,” he says with a small laugh. “And I guess I just don’t act my age!”
Up until two years ago, Howell was even a regular tennis player, with few medical concerns except high blood pressure. But hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease. When Howell started to feel fatigued more easily, doctors discovered problems with one of his heart valves. Valves are responsible for regulating the one-way blood flow through the heart.
“They said not enough blood was going through the heart to my body because my aortic valve wasn't working properly,” he says. “They watched it for a few months, and then recommended surgery at St. Anthony’s to replace it.”
The overwhelming majority of aortic and mitral valve repairs or replacements can be performed today through small-incision heart surgery.
The aortic valve connects the heart to the largest artery in the body. Howell wanted minimally invasive heart surgery that would result in a faster recovery and a minimal scar. He was referred to James Scharff, MD, a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon who specializes in small-incision heart and valve surgeries.
“The overwhelming majority of aortic and mitral valve repairs or replacements can be performed today through small-incision heart surgery, often called keyhole surgery,” says Dr. Scharff. “Even coronary bypass grafts can be performed in the same manner. A traditional open procedure requires up to an 8-inch incision, whereas these less-invasive procedures can be performed through an incision that is only 2 to 4 inches long.”
Heart valves can either become stiff or tight due to calcium buildup (stenosis), or they can leak and not close properly, which then causes blood to pool or at times flow backward. There may be few symptoms except a feeling of tiredness or ankle swelling until the condition deteriorates, causing shortness of breath, fainting or chest pain. Medications can control the problem for a short time, but surgery is the ideal option.
“We can either repair or replace the valve, depending on the condition of the heart and the overall health of the patient,” says Dr. Scharff. “Typically, patients remain in the hospital for several days following surgery and are often cleared to resume normal activities within a few weeks.”
“I left the hospital with a walker, but I got rid of that pretty quick,” says howell. “I've had no problems since then. I still drive and get out regularly to play bridge with my friends. And yes,” he adds with a smile, “I'm back to doing pushups and walking. You can’t keep this old Navy guy down!”
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