Sean Smith: Back on the Golf Course
Sean Smith was a 17-year-old high school senior when his heart troubles began. He remembers the cold symptoms, weight loss, tiredness and high fever caused by a virus. After five days, he left with a heart murmur that his doctor continued to monitor.
For more than 20 years, the South Shore resident lived a normal life. A sports fan who enjoys playing sports - everything from softball to golf to sea kayaking -- he worked as a business development manager for a software company. Then one Monday, at age 37, he could barely get out of bed. "I was exhausted," he recalls. "I tried to walk up a little incline and I was out of breath. My heart felt racy."
A trip to the Emergency Room disclosed a severely damaged heart valve that needed replacement. His heart was also enlarged, a symptom of heart failure. He decided to have his surgery at the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, an institution with an impressive, documented track record of success in heart valve surgery.
Smith had to make a difficult decision between a new mechanical valve, which would last longer, and a pig valve transplant, which would mean he wouldn't need to be on the blood-thinner Coumadin for the rest of his life. He ultimately decided on the mechanical valve.
"We can achieve excellent results with both approaches," said his surgeon, Kamal Khabbaz, MD, "but in Sean's case, the mechanical valve made sense because he was so young. Pig valves often need to be replaced after 15 to 20 years."
Smith remembers that Dr. Khabbaz was generous with his time, discussing the pros and cons at length with him as he struggled with his decision.
The surgery lasted six hours. In addition to receiving a new valve, Smith had a Maze procedure to improve the regularity of his heart beat. In the Maze procedure, a surgeon makes small cuts or burns in the atria (the upper chambers of the heart) to create a pattern of scar tissue. This interferes with stray electrical impulses that cause the heart to beat abnormally. Before Smith left the hospital after three weeks, physicians also implanted a pacemaker, a small electrical device in the chest that helps manage the heart beat with electrical impulses.
In less than two years, Smith's health is good, he's back at work and he's playing golf again. His lung capacity has improved enough to take brief runs. He even participated in the CVI's Heart Walk team when he was just nine months out.
He did it to honor the skill and kindness of his care team. "The staff in the OR, the ICU and Farr 6 are always in my thoughts," he says. "It was great to walk side by side with the group."