Hunting for an alternative
Jim Winkler of Appleton, Wis., was looking forward to his hunting trip out west in October 2013. But when Jim started experiencing exercise-induced chest and jaw pain, his wife, Jeanette, a nurse for more than 40 years, insisted Jim get checked out before his trip.
Family history is a predictor of heart disease
Jim has a strong family history of heart disease. A brother had open heart bypass surgery and Jim lost another brother and his father to heart disease—his father at just 42 years old. Jim, himself, was first diagnosed with heart disease in 2001. So the 64-year-old wasn't taking his symptoms lightly.
Jim's cardiologist in Appleton ordered a stress test which, Jim says, he failed miserably. Further tests showed he had blockages in all four coronary arteries—some blocked as much as 90 percent. "I have a good heart, but bad highways to it," Jim quips.
Having angioplasty to clear the blockages wasn't an option at this point, either. "My cardiologist told me I needed open heart surgery for a quadruple bypass," Jim recalls. And much to Jim's disappointment, the long recovery from open heart surgery would mean no hunting at all that fall.
Jim hunts for a second opinion
Having run his own business for 25 years, Jim is used to being in charge. So when Jim was told they didn't offer minimally invasive heart bypass surgery in Appleton, he didn't accept the finality of that option. Jim turned to the Internet to explore his options. Results from his search showed Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wis. on top. Gundersen is one of only a handful of hospitals offering a procedure called minimally invasive coronary artery bypass grafting (MICS-CABG) on up to four vessels as Jim needed.
Jim contacted Gundersen heart surgeon Prem Rabindranauth, MD, FACS, for a second opinion. Dr. Rabindranauth (who also goes by Dr. Rabindra), who has successfully performed the MICS procedure more than 200 times, told Jim he was a good candidate for the procedure.
"My body, my heart, my decisions," says Jim. And he adds, "It was not a hard decision to make. Gundersen was only three hours away. When my wife and I met with Dr. Rabindra, he explained everything to my satisfaction—enough so I could make an informed decision. We were very impressed."
MICS offers many advantages over open heart surgery
"The biggest difference with the MICS technique is how we approach the heart," Dr. Rabindra explains. "With traditional heart bypass surgery, a long cut is made through the breast bone to open the chest. With the MICS-CABG procedure we use a much smaller three-inch incision between the ribs."
Dr. Rabindra reports, "Because we don't have to 'crack open' the chest, MICS results in less pain, blood loss, risk for infection and scarring. Patients experience shorter hospital stays and faster recovery, and are able to start cardiac rehab sooner. Restrictions are lifted sooner with most patients back to full speed in two to four weeks compared to the six to eight weeks with traditional surgery."
Jim had surgery at Gundersen on Oct. 24, 2013. Two week after surgery, Jim returned to La Crosse for a follow-up visit. Because his recovery was going so well, Jim was told his follow-up care and cardiac rehab could be done back home in Appleton. Less than six weeks after surgery, Jim's cardiologist in Appleton proclaimed his recovery to be "exceptional."
"I am so glad everything worked out and I could have the surgery at Gundersen. The doctors, nurses and staff at the hospital were excellent. I was met with smiles from everyone. They were so caring and very attentive," says Jim. "I've been telling people at cardiac rehab, ‘if you ever need heart bypass, go to Gundersen Health System.' I wish we lived closer so we could get all of our healthcare at Gundersen."
Jim adds, "I feel GREAT." In fact, he says he felt well enough to go deer hunting up north just four weeks after his surgery. Jim didn't get a deer, but it did his heart good to be healthy enough to do one of the things he enjoys most.
If you are facing open heart surgery, you owe it to yourself, to get a second opinion like Jim did.