Elizabeth and Charles Chadwell of Wilmington, Ohio, share most everything—three children, three grandchildren, a companionable retirement, a beautiful home and a well-tended garden. In 2018, the Chadwells, celebrating 50 years of marriage, discovered they had yet another thing in common: coronary artery disease.
Elizabeth, 71, was landscaping her backyard in the summer of 2017 when she noticed a strange sensation. “I was planting flowers and spreading mulch,” says Elizabeth, who mows the grass with a self-propelled lawnmower. “I felt something in my abdomen under my breast that lasted a few seconds.”
Summer moved to fall and she remained quiet about the occasional vague feeling as she raked leaves and decorated for the holidays. When a friend visited in December, Elizabeth described the sensation and was taken aback by her friend’s response: “Liz, I think you’ve got a blockage.”
Days later, Elizabeth’s primary care physician ordered an electrocardiogram (EKG) which showed an irregularity. She was referred to a cardiologist who ordered a stress test and an angiogram. The angiogram revealed coronary artery disease in multiple blood vessels. Told she would need surgery, Elizabeth requested a transfer to TriHealth's Bethesda North Hospital, where she met cardiovascular surgeon Kathryn O’Keefe, MD with the TriHealth Heart Institute. “We had an immediate connection,” Elizabeth recalls.
Dr. O’Keefe calls herself a “straight shooter.” She says she’s up front with patients about surgical risks and benefits. Elizabeth, Dr. O’Keefe points out, is typical of women with heart disease. “Women don’t realize heart disease is their number one killer. Their symptoms are often atypical so they often ignore them.”
Because Elizabeth was diabetic and had blockages in three arteries, Dr. O’Keefe recommended coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery. The procedure involved a team of specialists working alongside her: a cardiac anesthesiologist, a perfusionist operating the heart-lung machine, a surgical assistant, surgical technicians, nurses and nurse practitioners.
Of the four-hour CABG procedure, Dr. O’Keefe says, “I opened Elizabeth’s breastbone down the middle (sternotomy) and used an artery from behind her breast bone and a vein from her leg, which we harvested minimally invasively, to reroute blood flow around the blockages.” After surgery, Elizabeth was monitored in the cardiac intensive care unit before being released.
Bethesda North Hospital arranged for a nurse, an occupational therapist and a physical therapist to go to Elizabeth’s home after discharge. “She made a smooth recovery and was driving and grocery shopping within a month,” says Dr. O’Keefe.
In March 2018, three months after surgery, Elizabeth organized a party to celebrate the Chadwells' 50th wedding anniversary. Charles began complaining of back pain two months later. When he failed a stress test, further cardiac tests were ordered. An angiogram showed the entire left main artery of his heart was blocked.
Charles was transferred to Bethesda North Hospital where Dr. O’Keefe performed CABG surgery the next day on June 10. “During surgery, I found that his aortic valve—the gatekeeper valve of the heart— was narrowed and not functioning well,” says Dr. O’Keefe. She replaced the diseased valve with an artificial one.
The Chadwells say it was daunting to be back at the hospital for cardiac care, but they were grateful for Dr. O’Keefe’s expertise. Elizabeth was pleased to see her former nurses again. “Our cardiac team gets a small glimpse of a patient’s total recovery,” Dr. O’Keefe says. “They love when patients come back all healed up.”
Like his wife, Charles had an excellent recovery and also completed cardiac rehabilitation in the TriHealth Heart Institute’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Department. The Chadwells resumed their daily routine and the partnership that works so well.
“Last summer, I gardened and reset brick borders while Charles worked on various projects around the house and yard,” says Elizabeth. “We’re a good team.”