Heart Survival

Dale Pontius knows all too well what can happen if you don't take care of your heart. He is recovering from a quadruple bypass.

February is American Heart Month, a time when everyone should focus on their cardiovascular health.

Dale Pontius, 69, knows all about how important it is to take care of your heart. What started out to be a double bypass heart surgery in September at AdventHealth Daytona Beach turned into a quadruple bypass. In 2001, he suffered a heart attack and a stent was put in, followed by two more stents a couple of years later at two different times.

“Before this quadruple bypass, I had a lot of chest pressure that would come and go for six to seven months and my doctor did some more tests and recommended a surgeon,” Mr. Pontius said. “They thought they would have to do a double bypass, but once they got in there, they decided to do all four.”

Even though he wasn’t overweight, he has lost 17 pounds since the surgery.

“I feel like a whole different person. I can think, I’m clear, I can go all day doing stuff without getting tired,” Mr. Pontius said. “I retired about a year before the surgery. I’m going to start enjoying myself and not just sit around doing nothing. I changed my diet. I’ve always had high cholesterol and Diabetes II. After the surgery, I pretty much stayed away from sugar and Haagen-Dazs ice cream. I feel better. I get up in the morning and I feel ready to go. I don’t feel sluggish. I feel like a different person. My attitude’s a whole lot different after I had the surgery, too.”

Cardio rehabilitation has also helped his overall health.

“I go in there and I feel so much better when I come out,” Mr. Pontius said. “I don’t think I would feel as good as I do today if I hadn’t gone to cardio. They’ve taught me how to pace myself.”

But most importantly, “if you think you’ve got a problem, go get it checked,” he said.

He also suggests to keep moving.

“My wife and I went for walks after I got home and I contribute that to my recovery a little bit quicker than just sitting around a chair or in the bed feeling sorry for myself,” Mr. Pontius said.

He wanted to thank all his doctors who have taken care of him over the years who have “given me the opportunity to sit in the back yard watching the wild turkeys eat corn.”

Dr. Utpal Desai, director of cardiac surgery and vascular surgery at AdventHealth Daytona Beach, has been practicing locally for 20 years.

“From the surgery standpoint, I can tell you the cardiologists here are extraordinary and the surgical outcomes are very, very good,” Dr. Desai said.

People are reluctant to go to a hospital now with the Covid-19 pandemic, he noted, though. “It’s totally understandable, but our concern is that untreated, unscreened patients are going to become sicker and we’re going to lose patients from other preventable diseases and problems.

“We want the community to know it’s safe to come back,” Dr. Desai said. “We hope they will still come to their doctor and come to their cardiologist so we can continue to do lifesaving procedures. Not just for the heart, but for cancer and everything else. We’ve done lots of heart surgeries during this whole time and all of those patients are doing great. There also is telemedicine and remote options.”

Dr. Desai added surgeries can now be done with much less invasive procedures. Also, the quitting smoking, reducing stress, improving diet and getting proper exercise remain critical factors in heart health.

Dr. Sohit Khanna, cardiothoracic surgeon at UF Health Heart & Vascular Surgery at Halifax Health, acknowledged some elective surgeries were delayed due to Covid-19, but people with chest pain and other symptoms are realizing those surgeries need to be done.

“We’re not specifically seeing more heart disease related to Covid, but we’re certainly seeing more lung effects of Covid,” Dr. Khanna said. “(Heart surgery) has gotten easier because we’ve learned to better take care of our patients. In most cases you’re home between three and five days. We’re realizing the sooner we get patients going and get them home, the better they do. Sewing a bypass graft to a bypass artery hasn’t changed, but our understanding of the disease process and how to take care of it I think has significantly improved. We have added new technologies in terms of treating heart valve disease (without necessarily opening someone up).”

He added, “Everything in moderation. The one thing we can’t control is genetics. The number one killer in women is heart disease. It’s the female population that we tend to ignore that is very high risk for heart disease.”

If something doesn't feel right, don't hesitate to get it checked, Dr. Khanna said. “If you’re having a symptom that’s new or that’s different or that’s unusual, I’d rather you come in and it be nothing rather than you stay home and pretend that it’s something you already have and it could be something more major like a heart attack. If you catch it early enough, where there’s no damage, your chances of doing well are significantly higher if you come in in a very compromised position.”

Halifax Health Medical Center of Daytona Beach was named one of the nation’s top performing hospitals by Fortune and IBM Watson Health. The annual Fortune/IBM 50 Top Cardiovascular Hospitals study spotlights leading short-term, acute care, non-federal U.S. hospitals that treat a broad spectrum of cardiology patients.

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