"I just didn't feel like things were working well. I was feeling dizzy and sleeping an awful lot," Jim shared.
A stress test revealed that the culprit was an issue with his aortic valve. He had never had any known trouble with his heart before and was taken by surprise to learn of the severity of the situation.
"During that appointment my doctor told me, 'let me put it this way — if you don't do something about this, there's a 50 percent chance that you won’t live another two years,' and that was all I needed to hear," said Jim.
Grasping the gravity of the situation, Jim followed his doctor's referral to meet with Dr. Chad Rammohan at El Camino Health, who went over all his treatment options in detail. His top recommendation, which stood out as a particularly promising option, was the transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure — a fairly new alternative to open-heart surgery.
"I don't believe I could’ve gone through an open-heart surgery at my age and with my stamina; I don't believe I could've survived that," Jim said.
TAVR is a cutting-edge, minimally invasive procedure that only a small percentage of hospitals in the U.S. are able to perform. It requires only small incisions that allow doctors to thread a catheter to the heart and repair the aortic valve. As one of the earliest pioneers of the TAVR procedure, El Camino Health was the first health system in California to be recognized for excellence in its program with the Transcatheter Valve Certification from the American College of Cardiology (ACC) in 2020.
Jim's procedure was quickly scheduled for August of 2020. As someone who had already been extremely cautious about protecting himself from COVID-19, Jim shared that he felt more than assured of his safety, given the precautions that El Camino Health had in place before, during and after his procedure. And beyond the thorough safety measures, Jim found comfort in something else — the helpful and lighthearted attitude of his care team.
"The whole procedure was just amazing. When it was over, I didn't even know they had started. I can't describe how easy the whole experience was," Jim said as he laughed. "The nurses who prepared me for surgery were just amazing. When they rolled me in, there was joking and laughing going on, which really put me at ease and made me feel comfortable."
Jim's stay in the hospital was short; he went in for the procedure on a Monday morning and came home on a Tuesday afternoon. Jim was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of something that was so crucial to his overall health.
"I think I only had to have maybe one dose of Tylenol the whole time I was in the hospital," Jim recalled.
While every patient is different, Jim's road to recovery had a few bumps along the way. He suffered a fall and was injured during a walk in the weeks after his procedure, but his care team was quick to bring him back in to make sure there was nothing serious to worry about — and thankfully, there was not.
And because Jim was still struggling to regain his cardiovascular stamina, Dr. Rammohan arranged for him to begin a rehabilitation program offered through El Camino Health. It was there that he started to notice drastic improvements in his health. The rehabilitation program is a place to monitor and improve a patient's cardiac health following various heart procedures, and it also offers resources such as seminars on stress management, nutrition tips and more.
"It was a very well-rounded treatment plan," Jim recalled. "It was a blessing to have gone through that program. I looked forward to going, the attention, care and concern. Everyone I dealt with there was just extraordinary. I really felt good after each session."
Just eight weeks later, Jim completed the rehabilitation program and was back to enjoying his active lifestyle with a newfound feeling of energy. He reported feeling less fatigued, and he now goes on an hour-long walk almost every day. He smiled as he shared that his sons even bought him walking sticks for his birthday to ensure he’d be safe during his exercise.
Despite the trials he had to endure over the last year, Jim's warm spirit never ceased to shine through. Even as he told his story, he focused on his healing and expressed how lucky he felt to have received the care that he did.
"I feel an immense gratitude for the experience I had at El Camino Health," he said. "The staff I dealt with were just marvelous. I could tell from the passion and care they showed me that this wasn’t just a job for them, it was much more."