Emergency Heart Surgery Gives Liberty Township Man Chance to Enjoy Every Day
Jeff Lunsford had just spent a memorable week with his wife and daughter in New Orleans, celebrating Mardi Gras and making a college visit to Louisiana State University. The 53-year-old Liberty Township resident couldn’t have imagined that just days later he’d be in TriHealth’s Bethesda North Hospital recovering from six-way open heart bypass surgery.
For some time, he’d been having a burning sensation in his chest with exercise. With a history of ulcers, however, Jeff attributed his heartburn to exertional reflux.
“I dragged my feet and ignored symptoms for almost two years,” he admits. Even when his wife strongly encouraged him to seek medical advice, Jeff was sure he simply needed an update on his ulcer medicines. He saw his gastroenterologist, Michel Ghastine, MD with the TriHealth Digestive Institute, a few days after returning from New Orleans.
“I had convinced myself that I was perfectly fine,” Jeff recalls. “Then things went from zero to 100 miles per hour.”
Dr. Ghastine listened to Jeff’s story and referred him immediately to TriHealth Heart Institute cardiologist Craig Sukin, MD, who had him complete a stress test on the spot. Jeff failed the stress test, becoming short of breath and showing changes on his EKG. The next morning, March 1, 2019, he met Dr. Sukin in the Cath Lab at TriHealth’s Good Samaritan Hospital for what he thought would be an angioplasty with a couple of stents to open narrowed coronary arteries.
“I was sedated during angioplasty and went into it thinking everything was going to be great,” Jeff says. “My next conscious memory was being transported to Bethesda North Hospital in an ambulance. The transport nurse said I was going to have open heart surgery.”
The angiogram had revealed five major coronary arteries that were 99 percent blocked. The sixth artery was 75 percent blocked. Without surgery, Jeff’s chances of having a heart attack were almost certain.
“I had felt fine and normal,” Jeff says. “This was an absolute shock.”
As Jeff was being transported up the highway for heart surgery, his wife, Jennifer, was on the phone breaking the news to their three daughters – ages 26, 20 and 18 – scattered across Michigan, Alabama and Liberty Township.
“My wife, a nurse anesthetist at Good Samaritan Hospital, had a heightened realization that this was really bad. It would require a surgeon on his best game to allow me to go back to my normal activities and do what we did as a family and a couple.”
Cardiothoracic surgeon Eric Okum, MD, was up to the challenge of creating bypasses for the six severely blocked arteries supplying blood to Jeff’s heart muscle.
“He used both internal mammary arteries in my chest and one vein from my leg to create the bypasses,” Jeff explains. “When I contemplate the amount of work I had done, and the knowledge and skill of the surgeon, it’s mind-boggling. The word ‘miraculous’ certainly applies.”
Jeff woke to a new reality with a “big zipper in my chest. It’s a painful, life-altering situation. I want to single out the transport team for keeping me in the right place mentally when I had this bombshell dropped on me. The team in the CVICU [Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit] was fabulous in managing my expectations and helping me get back on my feet.”
He went home with an education booklet, including pages to track his blood pressure and activity. “My walking goal was to walk four times a day, three minutes at a time. I told my wife, ‘I can just do 12 minutes and knock this out.’ My wife just laughed. After two minutes, I was exhausted. It was a rude awakening about how much work it would take to get back to an average life.”
Three days a week in cardiac rehab at the TriHealth Fitness & Health Pavilion have boosted Jeff’s confidence and activity level. “The rehab team is fantastic. They do a great job encouraging and educating you,” he says.
He has made some heart-healthy dietary changes, and he exercises daily. He takes cholesterol medicine and a pill to regulate his heart rate.
Twelve weeks after surgery, Jeff returned to full-time work as manager of a Dick’s Sporting Goods store. “It takes stamina and physical ability. I was apprehensive to jump back in, but it’s gone extremely well. I feel 100 percent now, and I anticipate just getting better.”
The events in early March have given Jeff a greater appreciation of life.
“I look at every day as a blessing – another day with my girls,” he says. “I spend time being more present in conversations and less time with electronics. I don’t get stressed out by things in life that used to seem so important. I have a new appreciation for how cool it is to have another day.”
Jeff says, “In my estimation, they’re the best at what they do. They took a person like me who convinced himself there was no problem. It all started with Dr. Ghastine saying, ‘I don’t like the way that sounds. I want you to see cardiology.’
“They listened, looked and checked and were so very thorough. When I needed the best care and highest skill, they provided just that. They took me from a situation where I shouldn’t have a future and gave me that future.
“From the care transport team, to the care team who prepped me for surgery, to the surgical team with the skill and knowledge to do the surgery, they didn’t just save my life but gave it back in full.”
He continues, “Everyone was well-informed about what I needed next. Cardiac rehab knew my history before I walked in the door. I think it’s easy to get lost somewhere, but I never got lost in the system. The system kept pulling me back, saying here’s what you need next. That’s TriHealth.”
Last Updated: July 24, 2019