Stu's Story: Beebe’s Team Gave Me the Confidence I Needed for Recovery
It was a warm September day – the perfect day to go for a swim in the ocean. Stu Bruce woke up early, loaded up his car, and headed for the Tower Road beach where he swims several times a week during warmer months.
He felt great and was excited to enjoy the morning swim.
He dropped his chair, towel, and book at the normal spot, stretched his muscles a bit, and headed into the water.
“A few strokes in, I could feel something was off. I normally do four strokes, then breathe, then four strokes,” Stu recalls. “But, on this day, I noticed I could only do one or two strokes before I needed a breath.”
He thought he could work through it, but after a while he realized he better get out of the water. He headed up to the beach and stood for a moment to catch his breath.
“I thought maybe I would just catch my breath and go back in, but as I stood there on the beach, I realized I better not risk it,” he recalls.
So, he headed back to his towel, gathered his chair and book, and headed back to his car.
“I’m a pretty healthy guy. I swim several times each week and I golf regularly, so when I couldn’t catch my breath – even after just taking a few steps – I should have recognized that something was really wrong,” Stu said.
Instead, he took his time – walking a few steps, taking a breather, then starting again. It took him quite some time to get over the dune and back to his car. Once there, he calmed himself and decided he could drive himself home.
“At home, my wife immediately went into nurse routine,” he said. His wife, Linda, is a retired nurse practitioner. “She was on the phone and had an appointment for me to see my cardiologist, Dr. Rosa.”
A Wake-Up Call
While the shortness of breath got Stu’s attention, he still didn’t think it was heart related.
“I didn’t have any pain. I just had this shortness of breath,” he recalled.
At Cardiovascular Consultants, the office of R. Alberto Rosa, MD, Stu and Linda were told that it could be a heart event and they sent them to Beebe’s Emergency Department for some tests.
“Even then as we are driving to the emergency department, I still didn’t think it was a big issue. I thought maybe I had some slight clogs in my heart. They would open the vessel and I would be back to golfing and swimming in a week,” Stu said.
The tests did show a possible heart event, so Dr. Rosa decided to perform a cardiac catheterization on Stu to open the vessels that were having issues.
“I remember being on the table and seeing the looks on their faces as they were looking at my heart on the monitor. I knew it was something more complicated then,” said Stu.
Stu and Linda were told that Stu would need open heart surgery.
Kurt Wehberg, MD, of Beebe Cardiothoracic Surgery walked into the room to meet the couple and explain the procedure. He also noted that since Stu was so sick and because Stu was taking an anti-coagulant, he would need to wait seven days until he could have surgery and he would have to do that waiting in the intensive care unit.
“We had so many questions and Dr. Wehberg stayed and made sure to answer all of them. He was very reassuring and we felt completely confident in him and the Beebe team,” Stu said. “One thing that Dr. Wehberg said really stuck with me. He said that if my car had been any farther away, it could have been a disaster. I might not have made it.”
Planning for the Future
It’s not common that a person would have to stay in the ICU for nearly a week prior to surgery and it gave Stu’s family time to come visit and gave him time to make plans and reflect.
“The thing about being in the ICU – you are in the bed, so you have a lot of time on your hands. That can be good and bad,” he said. “My daughter came and my wife came often, but there are still big chunks of time where you are by yourself. I used the time to really reflect and think about my life. I also thought about what I still wanted to do – almost like prioritizing what you will do if you make it through to the other side.”
“You think of your children and grandchildren and hope that they would be alright no matter what happens,” he said.
Finally, surgery day arrived. Dr. Wehberg performed open heart surgery and completed bypasses in Stu’s heart. The surgery went very well and Stu was soon waking up in recovery.
He would go on to spend several more days in the intensive care unit, joking that it was almost like going home because many of the nurses and care providers already knew him.
After surgery, Dr. Wehberg and Brian McCarthy, PA-C, came to visit him and talk about the recovery process.
“They gave me this heart-shaped pillow that had the anatomical drawing of a heart printed on it. Dr. Wehberg took a pen and drew exactly what he had done to my heart right on the pillow,” Stu said. “Then he told me that this pillow would be my new best friend because it would protect my incision.”
Following open heart surgery, it is important for patients to place the pillow between themselves and a seatbelt. They are also told to press it to their chest if they feel a sneeze or cough coming on.
“The entire team at Beebe are now like family. Everything is so well-organized and streamlined. We always felt extremely well cared for,” Stu said. “Linda and I are so grateful to everyone who took part in my care and surgery.”
Following surgery, Stu slept in a reclining chair for several weeks and had regular visits from Beebe Home Care Services and physical therapists. In addition, he joined the Beebe Cardiac Rehab program where he was able to graduate after completing all of his sessions successfully.
He is now part of the ‘Phase 3’ program with Cardiac Rehab and is able to continue using the gym at the rehab office during the mornings.
“We never questioned our decision to have the surgery at Beebe. We are confident in the team and, now, as I am continuing to exercise at Beebe Cardiac Rehab and getting back out on the golf course, I know it is the team at Beebe and the care I received that gives me the confidence to continue living my active life. We are so blessed to have Beebe right here in our community.”