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Don McDonald

A second opinion became his first choice

Most pilots will tell you flying is a passion—it's their heart and soul. Such is the case for 67-year-old Don McDonald of Burnsville, Minn. But it was his heart that kept Don from fully experiencing the joy of flying.

"Airplanes have been my life. We built a business around it. But coronary difficulties have hindered my flying and medical certification over the last ten years," says Don.

About 10 years ago Don suffered a heart attack. He was treated with angioplasty and stents to open blocked arteries. Don recalls, "I made a wonderful recovery and went along fine for months. But over the next 10 years one area caused problems, needing additional procedures."

By December 2011, Don was in the emergency room yet again. This time the heart surgeon recommended bypass surgery. But because of medication he was on, Don's bypass surgery would have to wait a few days. This delay turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

"The surgeon was talking about doing a sternotomy where they open the chest to do a double bypass. I'd thought by the time I needed bypass—because I knew it was coming—they could go in using a minimally invasive technique," explains Don.

Don McDonald

When the surgeon told Don he didn't do minimally invasive surgery, in true pioneer spirit Don went in search of something better. He decided it was time for a second opinion.

"My nature is to research things. If they're going to do something to me, I want to know exactly what it is," Don says. "I started to research minimally invasive surgery and evaluate the various forms, who did it and where." 

As Don did his research, the minimally invasive coronary artery bypass grafting or MICS-CABG technique used at Gundersen Health System appealed most to him. With traditional heart bypass surgery, a long cut is made through the breast bone to open the chest. With MICS-CABG there's a much smaller three-inch incision between the ribs. Because the surgeon doesn't 'crack open' the chest, there is less pain and a faster recovery. Don also liked that it can be done on a beating heart and it was not robotic surgery.

Soon Don was on his way to Gundersen for a second opinion.

"Anytime a serious illness requires a serious solution you owe it to yourself to look at a second opinion. We were prepared to go anywhere to get the correct procedure. Luckily for us, Gundersen was only a two-and-a-half-hour drive away," says Don.

"It was a pretty amazing experience," he adds. "After a day of tests and evaluation we were in with the cardiologist discussing the results. He had technology beyond what I've seen before. He identified the problem and told us exactly what was required. He also reassured me that a properly executed double bypass would result in fully restored cardiac capacity."

"Choosing MICS CABG and going to Gundersen—there's nothing I would change. They did what they said, and I got a positive outcome. The people at Gundersen were beyond excellent," says Don.

Don is optimistic: "I'm trusting that what I've done through Gundersen will allow me to get back to regular flying. I've got high hopes and I'm encouraged by the progress I've made. I now have more energy and ideas than I know what to do with."

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