Father and daughter undergo nearly identical open-heart surgeries a day apart

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO COURTESY OF ANGIE SAZ - Angie Sax and her father John Broer, hug 'heart' pillows given to them after open-heart surgery in early October. The pair had similar surgeries only one day apart. Of the photo, Broer noted, 'We were feeling pretty good,' and said he thinks the fact they were together aided in a speedy recovery.Three months after having open-heart surgery, Angie Sax is at a point where she can not only chauffeur around her four children, she can also hoist one of her daycare kids who weighs more than 40 pounds.

Not bad, considering that on Oct. 2 she had surgery to correct a condition known as thoracic aortic aneurysm.

What’s equally amazing is that her father, John Broer, had nearly the identical surgery just the day before, and they recovered together.

“We were both born with bicuspid aortic valves,” said Sax.

A bicuspid aortic valve is an aortic valve that only has two small flaps or leaflets, instead of three, that open widely and close securely to regulate blood flow from the heart into the aorta, the one-way main artery that distributes oxygen-rich blood to the body. These leaflets also prevent blood from flowing backward into the heart. With only two leaflets, doctors say, the valve doesn’t function perfectly and eventually creates problems.

“The first three weeks (after surgery) really, really wears you out,” said Sax, 37, who grew up in Sherwood and is a 1994 Sherwood High School graduate.

Although the surgeries were long and serious, Sax said she was happy she opted to have the procedure at the same time as her dad.

“We hung out every day together,” she said, adding that each of the six days in the hospital she was able to say ‘Good night’ to her father. “We actually checked out at the same time.”

Now, the pair is completing rehabilitation together at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center and can often be found side by side working out on treadmills or elliptical machines.

Sax had known for four years she would need to have open-heart surgery to correct the valve deformity. What she didn’t know until her surgery got closer is that she would have that procedure a day after her 65-year-old father. by: SHERWOOD GAZETTE PHOTO BY RAY PITZ - The Sax family huddles in their Sherwood living room in November following Angie Sax's Oct. 2 surgery to correct her heart condition. Her father had similar surgery just the day before. They include, from left, Emily, 10; Sarah, 8; Angie, Chris, Nathan, 5; and Katie, 13.

Dr. Jonathan Hill performed both surgeries at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.

“He’s a really neat doctor,” said Sax.

While the surgery wasn’t unique for Hill, a cardio/thoracic surgeon, the fact he performed the surgery on father/daughter patients was.

“I would say that’s the first time I’ve done it in 30 years,” said Hill, who noted that while he’s completed similar operations on family members of the same generation, he hasn’t performed them on family members from different generations.

Hill said there’s a strong genetic/familial link for patients who have bicuspid aortic valves. As a result, Hill put in new aortic valves — a mechanical one in Sax and a tissue valve in her father — and replaced their ascending aortas with a Dacron graph.

Although fixing Sax’s valve was much more involved than her father’s, Hill said the prognosis for both is good.

“They will continue to get better,” Hill emphasized.

The doctor said he got a chuckle out of seeing them frequently together after the surgery.

“They would have breakfast together,” said Hill, who recently saw both patients. “They look great.”

Prior to the surgery, Sax’s husband, Chris, said he was confident the surgery would be a success.

“We felt really good because (Dr. Hill) taught other doctors how to do the surgery,” said Chris Sax, adding that he believes his wife’s decision to have surgery the same time as her father was a plus. “She wanted a recovery buddy.”

Their daughter, Katie, said she was nervous after the surgery because her mother didn’t look like herself.

“She was very pale,” recalled Katie. “She looks much, much better.”

Katie said she was in class the day of the surgery and was happy when she received a note at school telling her that her mother came through with flying colors.

Like Sax, her father, John Broer, is on the mend.

“That was quite an experience,” he said during a recent telephone conversation. “The recovery has been pretty remarkable compared to what we were told to expect.”

Broer was told it could take some time before he felt like he would live.

“Frankly, it took about three days,” he said, pointing out that both he and his daughter went in with positive attitudes that helped them recover fairly quickly.

A Sherwood resident since 1986, Broer said both he and his daughter were something of an oddity in the hospital, always hanging out and eating together.

“It was kind of unusual from the nurses’ perspective, and they had never seen anything like it,” Broer said. “Having each other probably really helped in our recovery and our attitudes.”

The big part now is coping with Sax’s medical expenses.

While Medicare will cover all of Broer’s surgery, the expenses are proving difficult for Sax and her family.

Although insurance pays for much of her heart surgery, she still must come up with $15,000 in out-of-pocket expenses. Adding to that financial burden, the family’s debt is mounting because Sax still owes $5,000 for knee surgery after tearing her ACL, MCL, her meniscus, fracturing her tibia and dislocating her kneecap while jumping on a trampoline.

“I was on crutches for seven weeks,” she said. “I had to relearn to walk.”

“We were just kind of barely making it by before this,” she added. “There (are) no extra funds.”

That said, employees at Sherwood’s US Bank branch in Old Town have been doing their part, creating a “Heart for a Heart” account. The employees got into the spirit of giving, paying $5 each Friday for the privilege of wearing blue jeans, money that goes to Sax’s fund.

“This is all their idea,” Sax said. “It’s very sweet.”

Those wishing to donate can do so at the Angie Sax “Heart for a Heart” account (No. 153666201071) at any US Bank branch.

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