The “Skill of Such a Fine Surgeon” Saves Heart Patient With Six Blockages

Seventy-seven-year-old Richard Buck was sure his pain was from indigestion — no doubt from something he ate. True, he sat up all night because of the pain in his chest, but surely those over-the-counter antacids would kick in at some point, he thought.

But they didn’t. And it was the persistence of his pain the next morning that led Buck to tell his wife they needed to go from their home in Hudsonville to the Emergency Room on the Mercy Health Southwest Campus in Byron Center.

He was seen immediately by a physician in the ED who ordered bloodwork, which indicated that Buck had suffered a heart attack. The next thing he knew, Buck was in an ambulance being rushed to Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, where he was met by cardiologist Nishant Kalra, MD, who was preparing to perform a heart catheterization on him.

Afterward, Dr. Kalra informed Buck’s wife that he had six blockages and that his condition was beyond what they could do with stents. Dr. Kalra said he was a good candidate for open heart surgery and explained that cardiac surgery through Mercy Health was performed at its Muskegon location by one of the University of Michigan Health cardiothoracic surgeons. So they transported Buck to Mercy Health in Muskegon, where they admitted him.

Two days later, Buck underwent open heart surgery performed by Cardiothoracic Surgeon Nabeel El-amir, MD, an assistant professor of cardiac surgery at University of Michigan Health whom Buck described as “an excellent surgeon with a great bedside manner.” He attributes his speedy recovery “to the skill of such a fine surgeon.”

Following surgery, Buck spent two days in ICU followed by two days in a step-down unit. “The caregiving staff were excellent,” Buck recalled. “I had no pain in my chest, but the biggest problem I had was in my leg, where they harvested the vein for the bypass. My leg was extremely tender to the touch from my ankle to my mid-calf for another month.”

His soreness is not an uncommon outcome, said Dr. El-amir. “In Mr. Buck’s case, we were able to do endoscopic vein harvesting using a small incision and a camera to retrieve the vein for the bypass.” This eliminated the need to incise the skin over the course of the vein.

In one week from the first onset of symptoms, Buck was back at home.

Now, three times a week Buck attends cardiac rehab at Mercy Health in Grand Rapids. He has also met with his cardiologist and surgeon at clinics in Grand Rapids for his follow-up care.

“I’m anxious to get back to doing the things I like to do, but that will take a little more time,” Buck admitted. “I have a positive outlook, though I need to come to grips to seriously change my lifestyle regarding diet and exercise.”

Looking back, Buck wants others to know that he probably had some warning signs that he attributed to the “natural aging process” rather than to potential heart problems. “I wish I had had discussed these signs in more detail with my primary care physician. I had some swelling in my ankles and extreme fatigue to the point that I would fall asleep every time I sat down. My family would make jokes about how easily I could fall asleep.”

Dr. El-amir says that Buck’s prognosis is very good. “It is important to understand that bypass operations do not reverse the heart disease of our patients — an operation takes care of the immediate symptoms. But in most cases, it improves our patients’ long-term survival. We encourage our patients to make lifestyle changes that include weight reduction, proper diet, and diabetes management and smoking cessation, when appropriate.”

Mercy Health’s collaborative, team-based approach broadens patient access to comprehensive cardiovascular services regionally and locally. “It gives patients more access points for health care,” said. Dr. El-amir. “It gives patients more options and more choices. That’s the plus that Mercy Health has to offer.”

Buck agrees. “To my good fortune I went to Mercy Health and received the great care that I did. At each facility I was treated kindly and respectfully…they really knew what they were doing,” he recalled. “I would definitely recommend them.”



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