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Your Healthy Family: Colorado Springs man get quality of life back, with new heart valve

Posted at 12:05 PM, Feb 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-07 14:05:00-05

COLORADO SPRINGS – When Colorado Springs resident John Bess started experiencing shortness of breath and having mild chest pains in June of 2017, he knew it was time to visit a doctor.

John says, “Before surgery I couldn’t do 20 stairs in my house. I just couldn’t do it. I was out of breath.”

Dr. Kevin Shortt, a cardiothoracic surgeon with UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, was one of the doctors involved in his care.  “I think the thing that bothered (John) him the most was that overall he felt like he couldn’t do what he used to do. He felt very fatigued and he really almost thought there was something wrong with him not physically, because all of a sudden he had things change so much.”

Dr. Shortt performed the open heart surgery to fix John’s problem.  “John had an aortic valve replacement with a 25 millimeter prosthetic aortic valve.  His surgery was very uneventful, and he was discharged in I think four or five days, and went home and then began to do the recuperative period.”

John says recovering from open heart surgery was a challenge.  “It’s not easy, I certainly don’t recommend it for everybody. Recovery is tough.  You have to force yourself to get up and go for a walk, even if that walk is walking around the elevator (at the hospital), or telling yourself, ‘today I’m walking down to the bottom of the driveway and back.’  I would take my little red pillow and I’m going to go for a walk. Then (the walk) it gets a little bit further and a little bit further. You have to force yourself to get up and get moving — that’s what’s going to make the difference.  Then all of a sudden a year later you look back and say, ‘Did that really happen?’ ”

John says looking back, he knows not ignoring his symptoms was the key to being treated.  “I am so thankful that the with minor chest pain that I was having and the shortness of breath, that I actually listen to my body and said ‘something isn’t right.’  It seemed very mild and it could have easily been overlooked.”

With recovery now behind him, John is living each new day with gratitude.  “I went from not making it up those 12 stairs to getting out and walking and hiking now.  This summer I got to go to Haiti with my family on a medical mission trip where we walked five or six miles every day.  It (aortic valve replacement) didn’t just make a change in my life, It gave me my life back.”

Dr. Shortt explains, “Now that the valve has been replaced we can actually look at the echo and see that his left ventricle has come back down a little bit to more normal dimensions.  By replacing the valve and restoring normal function, his heart functions much better and (John) he’s returned to many of the activities that he used to be able to do. I know for a fact that he started skiing again.  He’s gone hiking again, and really returned to all the things that he enjoyed beforehand.”

Dr. Shortt feels that while the circumstances that led to Johns heart disease are rare, his case presents lessons we can all learn from.  “I guess if there’s any message it’s that patients need to be responsible for their own health. If you can’t do the things that you used to do, say six months ago, then that’s a big change and that means something has really changed within your body and should be investigated.”

For John, even though his heart problems were not a product of his life choices, he also hopes his story can be an example to everyone not to ignore the subtle signs of heart disease.  “I hope that I get one man to say, ‘I should listen to my body, maybe I should go get this checked out.’ That’s the one person that I want to touch. I can say everybody at UCHealth Memorial has been wonderful.  From the time I walked in to the time I walked out, the care has been wonderful. That made a huge difference not only for me but my family. My wife (Ami) is a flight nurse, and she understands the medical side of this and the biggest thing that  the doctors and all of the staff did for me was allow Ami to be my wife and not another medical provider. She didn’t have to worry about the care that I was getting, or if I was getting the right meds. She got to be my wife and that was a huge difference in my recovery.”

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