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Your Healthy Family: Complex heart surgeries are Dr. Peter Walinsky's calling

Posted at 11:12 AM, Jul 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-07 13:15:50-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — In our last story, we shared Mark Beranek's story. Mark is a Colorado Springs man who did not ignore the subtle symptoms of heart disease he began to experience during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Peter Walinsky, senior director of cardiac and vascular surgery at UCHealth Memorial, is Mark's heart surgeon, and it just so happens Mark was Dr. Walinsky's 1,000th case in southern Colorado.

Dr. Walinsky remembers Mark’s case for many reasons. “He already had some dysfunction of his heart, from the valve not working. It would have been nice to discover that earlier, but thank God, he came in before his aorta ruptured.”

Before Dr. Walkinsky arrived in Colorado Springs four years ago, Mark's complex surgery would not likely have happened at Memorial Hospital. “When I got here, the program was doing about 245 cases a year, and most of those cases were straightforward coronaries and the occasional straightforward valve.”

Now complex heart procedures are the bread and button of the cardiac program at Memorial.

Dr. Walinsky says, “Most of what we do is complex cardiac surgery. Re-operations, root replacement, aortic valve repairs, multi-valve operations, the kinds of things you see done every day at Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic. Our TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement) program is a top-tier TAVR program and our results are as good as any place.”

TAVR procedures that are commonly used to treat aortic stenosis were not happening at UCHealth Memorial before Dr. Walinsky arrived. Raising awareness about aortic stenosis continues to be a passion for Dr. Walinsky. “Heart valve disease is an independent risk factor for significant morbidity and mortality. That's one of the reasons why I'm so passionate about this, is trying to get the word out. If we screened everybody when they are 60 years old with an echocardiogram, which is a cheap non-invasive test, we would catch people earlier in their disease. Then we could follow them more carefully and intervene earlier, before they came into the emergency department with heart failure, because the most common presentation for aortic valve stenosis is heart failure.”

Dr. Walinsky's office is full of cards and gifts of appreciation from patients. It seems when you have your heart repaired, most people feel like they have been given a second chance at life.

Dr. Walinsky says he has performed well over 4,000 cases in his 15-plus years as a heart surgeon, and guesses the 1,000 cases performed in southern Colorado amounts to around 4,000-5,000 hours spent in the operating room.

In his office, Dr. Walinsky keeps notebooks filled with a list of every case he has performed. “I take the patient sticker and I put it in the book, and I write down what I did, and then I keep the numbers running for my whole career.” And in those books Mark Beranek will always be case number 1,000 at UCHealth Memorial Hospital.

Mark says, “As a person who has been in southern Colorado since 1981, I feel very blessed that we have someone like Dr. Walinsky working in our area that can take care of the health issues we have. One thousand is a number, but I'm very happy to have been introduced and recommended to him and I think as a community we should be very thankful that he's here.”

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