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World-Class Surgery Where You Live

  • Category: Education
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  • Written By: Amanda Akey

Two years ago, Diane Evans started experiencing shortness of breath and a fast heartbeat. Her symptoms gradually worsened until the Perkinston, Mississippi, resident, then 78, could no longer manage any activity for longer than 10 minutes at a time. “I did notice I was slowing down, and I didn’t enjoy things as much because I really didn’t feel good,” she said. “I wasn’t certain what it was, but I still functioned.”

Hitting Bottom

Diane had not seen a doctor in 30 years — and had never been in a hospital except to give birth. Nor had she told anyone about her difficulties. A turning point came, however, in September 2019, when she attended a birthday party for her great-granddaughter. Diane struggled to breathe and make it through the celebration. Her daughter and son-in-law then texted friends in medicine, who urged them to get her to the emergency room at Mobile Infirmary. Diane finally agreed to go.

Diagnosing the Problem

After a comprehensive evaluation and testing, doctors determined Diane had severe mitral valve regurgitation. Mitral regurgitation occurs when the leaflets of the mitral valve, one of the four valves in the heart, do not close properly, allowing blood to leak backward.
“The severity of the leaking put Ms. Evans in congestive heart failure,” said William Johnson, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon at Infirmary Health who consulted with Diane. “And while there are many causes of congestive heart failure, the end result is that the heart simply can’t adequately pump the blood out to the body to sustain all the functioning it needs to, and that blood backs up into the lungs.”

Diane also had a heart rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation, in which the heart beats too fast. “Diane’s condition was serious, but, overall, her heart was relatively strong,” Dr. Johnson said, “and she had no other health issues.” He recommended surgery to replace her mitral valve. During this time, he would also perform a sophisticated technique known as the Maze procedure to treat her atrial fibrillation. This involves using heat and/or cold to produce scar tissue in the heart to block the abnormal electrical impulses causing the irregular heartbeat, allowing new electrical pathways to be created.

All open-heart operations are very complex, requiring not only highly skilled cardiovascular surgeons but an entire multidisciplinary team of experienced professionals providing support in
and out of the operating room. Dr. Johnson and his colleagues at Cardio-Thoracic and Vascular Surgical Associates are exceptionally equipped to meet these needs. They offer top-tier treatments for the full spectrum of congestive, degenerative, and congenital heart and vascular diseases.

Everything You Need Close to Home

“We tell people all the time that you don’t have to go out of town to get world-class surgery or to find surgeons who have been trained at world-class institutions and who have brought these skills to our community,” Dr. Johnson said. “Infirmary Health has done a terrific job of providing all of the ancillary support — all the personnel, equipment, and resources — we need to help us be successful at what we do.” Vascular surgeon Michael Do, M.D., said it is uncommon to find so many multidisciplinary surgical specialists working together under one roof.

“If you think about cardiac surgery and then peripheral vascular surgery, classically there’s not a lot of overlap,” he said. “Fortunately, we have such talented surgeons in our group that there is some overlap. There are several procedures, including aortic aneurysm repair, where we oftentimes team up and do combined surgeries because that’s how we’ll achieve the best result. And that reflects the breadth of our experience and expertise.”

Keeping Pace With Medical Advances

Six cardiothoracic surgeons in the group primarily focused on heart surgery, enabling Dr. Daniels to specialize in a vast variety of complications in the chest outside of the heart. “That’s allowed us to really progress this practice to where we’re now able to treat patients with much more challenging thoracic conditions,” he said. “And the reason I’m able to do it is simply because of our team approach, the idea that one of us is going to focus on a particular area so that the whole group is able to function more effectively.”

Life-Changing Results

The care she received at Mobile Infirmary, Diane said, has turned her life around. “It had a very great impact because now I can walk more than 10 steps without stopping to catch my breath,” she said. “I received excellent care at Mobile Infirmary,” she added. “I was there 16 days in two different ICUs and then on the cardiology floor, and I had a whole slew of nurses and caregivers. They were all wonderful. The same for the cardiologists and Dr. Johnson — they were really, really good. I’m very grateful to be 80 and able to do what I’m doing. I feel certain this surgery will give me more years than I could have imagined.”

Read more in our Winter 2021 issue of BEST Magazine.