A nurse and heart patient
Shaun Gibbs, a registered nurse in Gundersen Lutheran’s Coronary Care Unit (CCU), is “in the trenches” when it comes to fighting heart disease. But it’s more personal than that for Shaun. He knows firsthand the importance of living a heart-healthy life because he was born with a heart defect.
“My father, a Family Practice physician discovered a heart murmur when I was very young,” recalls Shaun. “As a child, it didn’t give me trouble, in fact, I didn’t even know about it, so my father just kept a close eye on the problem until I went off to college.”
It was about this time that Shaun had an echocardiogram, or echo, a noninvasive test that uses ultrasound to look at the heart’s function. The echo revealed that a valve in Shaun’s heart had only two leaflets, or flaps, instead of the normal three. While the valve didn’t function as it should, it still didn’t cause Shaun any problems so he continued to watch and wait.
Despite his heart condition—or perhaps because of it—Shaun became a nurse in the CCU. Over the years, Shaun discussed his heart condition with colleague Rajah Sundaram, MD, a Gundersen Lutheran cardiologist. “Once the heart studies indicated trouble with the valve, we decided it was time do something while I remained symptom free. My recovery would be quicker and easier,” says Shaun.
The valve needed to be replaced. After discussing his options, Shaun opted for a tissue valve versus an artificial valve so he wouldn’t have to take blood thinners the rest of his life. The trade-off is the tissue valve won’t last as long.
In September 2009, cardiothoracic surgeon Prem Rabindra, MD, successfully replaced Shaun’s heart valve. “I’ll probably need another replacement in 10 to 12 years,” says Shaun. But he speculates, “By that time, they’ll probably be able to grow
a new valve for me.”
Having been a patient, Shaun has a special perspective as a CCU nurse. “I can tell patients, first-hand, what to expect before and after surgery, and I can better empathize with what they are going through. My patients appreciate that,” Shaun explains.