At Larry Smith's property in Boring, there is a slight incline from the barn to the house. The retired Marine started to find himself breathless after the trek, though it didn't set off any warning signs.
"I said, 'Boy, I must be out of shape because I am having trouble getting up there,'" Smith said.
He experienced a few dizzy spells, and more shortness of breath, but still continued to go about his routine. Smith had a heart murmur, but he didn't connect the signs as being part of a larger problem. He had served in Vietnam and spent 22 years with the military, so his mindset was to fight through pain.
"In the Marine Corps they teach you to push through to reach where you need to go," he said.
Finally, during a walk with his wife Billie in mid-December, Smith realized something was wrong. He had a pain across his chest. He said it felt like straps were pulling his ribs together, restricting his entire torso. Smith, 69, decided he needed to see someone.
A call to his doctor in Gresham eventually sent him to Adventist Health in Portland, 10123 S.E. Market St., and Dr. Tom Molloy, the medical director of cardio-thoracic surgery and chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Northwest Regional Heart Center.
His aortic valve was heavily calcified and needed to be replaced. After reviewing options, he decided on a minimally invasive aortic valve replacement.
"Once you develop symptoms, average survival is three years," Molloy said. "An aortic replacement puts you back on track. It's as close as you get to a modern medical cure."
The surgery was done using specialized minimally invasive instruments introduced through a small incision between the ribs. In the northwest, this approach is regularly performed only at Adventist Health. Utilizing this approach for over eight years the team has maintained better results compared with national averages for standard aortic valve replacement.
Molloy also regularly performs a variety of minimally invasive cardiac surgical procedures utilizing the Da Vinci Robotic system. The Da Vinci allows for a smaller incision in the patient, as they don't need the space to fit a doctor's fingers. The outcomes for these procedures show reduced recovery time and less complications compared with sternotomy, which is a cut along the sternum normally used for heart surgery.
"It's still open-heart surgery, just through a smaller opening," Molloy said.
Smith had the surgery Jan. 22. During the six-hour operation, his wife received updates every 15 minutes. Because of the minimally invasive procedure, he only needed three days of recovery at the hospital. Now, he is back to walking in the mall with his wife and is looking forward to an upcoming trip.
Molloy stressed the importance of patients being their own advocates and speaking up when something is wrong. For Smith, that meant overcoming the notion that he didn't need help and going to see his doctor. If he hadn't things could have gone differently.
"Once you get these little problems, they start to build up," Smith said. "Your body is warning you — you have to listen."
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