Nothing but Praise for Innovative Heart Valve Replacement at St. Luke's
When James Layton of Quakertown awoke after having an aortic valve in his heart replaced at St. Luke's Hospital - Bethlehem Campus in September 2010, he was surprised to see that his bed was surrounded by people in white coats. “They told me I was a celebrity,” he recalls, “And the care that I got made me feel like one.”
Dr. Stephen Olenchock, the surgeon who performed the valve replacement, says Layton was the first patient at St. Luke's to undergo an innovative, minimally invasive procedure. Dr. Olenchock, who is chief of cardiovascular surgery at St. Luke's, explains that instead of dividing the entire breastbone, a 3-inch incision and a much smaller disturbance of the sternum shortens the hospital stay, lowers the risk of infection, reduces recovery time and spares the patient loss of blood and pain.
Layton, 49, is an aquatic biologist who works for a large company that produces fish pond and fish tank supplies. He had not had any pain or other symptoms, but his wife, Barbara, told him she thought he wasn't himself. She suggested he see the family doctor in Quakertown, Dr. Paul Marion. Dr. Marion heard what sounded like a leaking heart valve, or a “murmur.”
Next, Layton went to see cardiologist Dr. Marcus A. Averbach, who recommended that he meet with Dr. Olenchock. As he describes the meeting, “He was very friendly and he explained everything. I had no worries with him or St. Luke's, and when I went in, everybody made me feel as good as possible.”
Dr. Olenchock says, “Valve problems can be hard to diagnose because the patient may feel no pain. So when a patient who feels relatively well is told he needs heart surgery, I want to be reassuring and to explain the procedure fully.”
Team Approach to Care Makes a Difference
While Layton thinks the care he got post-surgery was exceptional, Dr. Olenchock says it was actually much like the care every surgery patient receives. “One of the things St. Luke's does well is to bring the whole team to see a patient. There's the surgeon, nurse practitioner, physician's assistant, nurses, physical therapist, occupational therapist, pharmacist and, case managers. “It's not about us. It's about addressing the patient's needs and answering questions.”
Layton spent only five days in the hospital. He had been fairly active, walking and doing light cardio and weight workouts at a gym he belongs to. He soon was walking on a treadmill again and happy to have very little pain and only a small scar. He didn't go for physical therapy because he was feeling better than he had in some time. “When a visiting nurse came, she was surprised that I was the guy who had heart surgery because I looked so healthy,” Layton says. Best of all to him, he was able to return to his job at Mars Fishcare in Chalfont in only one month.
Dr. Olenchock explains that Layton received a mechanical valve partly because of his relatively young age. “The mechanical valve can serve him well for the rest of his life.” Tissue valves also can be used, and often are the choice for older patients, he says.
The minimally invasive valve replacement is good for patients who have a constricted or leaking valve without other cardiac-related symptoms. Because it is a less stressful procedure, it also is good for older patients who might not be candidates for traditional valve-repair surgery. He says, “This is great surgery for anyone who needs aortic valve surgery.”
Adds James Layton, “ I would tell anyone who is considering this kind of surgery – go to St. Luke's!”
From a Local Coach
I coached basketball for 26 years. I also love to travel and spend time woodworking. Then, I had a pain in my back that wouldn't go away. Turns out it was related to my heart of all things. The cardiologists at St. Luke's Hospital - Allentown Campus knew exactly what to do, and explained it to me, on my terms. They opened my blocked artery with a drug-eluting stent in the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory.
And the care I received - it was great! Now, I'm back to doing what I love.