Heart Patient Testimonial
James Stepper: Open-Heart Surgery
James Stepper is an adventurer who enjoys downhill biking, mountain biking and creating exotic recipes with the Morel mushrooms he hunts every spring. At just 41, James is looking at life differently since his recent open-heart surgery at Allegiance Health.
Last December, James began noticing a tightening pain in his chest that would spread into his arms with physical exertion. In the beginning, the pain didn’t last very long, so he thought it was indigestion. “I was pretty fit and relatively young, so I was in denial about it being heart-related,” James said. “Eventually, though, the symptoms were triggered by less and less exertion and lasting longer, and I knew I had to do something.”
James was referred to a cardiologist by his primary care provider. After undergoing several tests, it was determined that he had a significantly blocked artery—a main blood vessel that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. He was told he would need open-heart surgery.
“This is a pretty frightening thing to hear,” James said. “I was concerned about whether or not I would survive the surgery and how my quality of life would be affected if I did.”
James was given the option of going out of town for his surgery or having it done at the Allegiance Heart and Vascular Center. He made his decision to choose Allegiance shortly after meeting cardiothoracic surgeon Mahender Macha, MD. “I immediately connected with his professionalism and his demeanor,” James said. “As he was talking with me, I could tell that his mind was already working out how he would tackle the surgery and save my life. His confidence gave me confidence, and I knew I wanted him working on my heart.”
James was also impressed with the knowledge and professionalism of his nursing team. “Allegiance obviously takes great care in staffing their heart center, because the level of care they provide is second to none. Nurse Practitioner Nolan and Physician Assistants Chris and Ross took the time to explain everything that was happening to me and prepare me for how I would look and feel—and they were right on target. They know what they are doing, and they care. The proof is in how well and how quickly I am healing.”
The team had James up and walking the day after his surgery. He recalls that “It was a humbling experience. You take for granted simple things like getting out of bed by yourself. During my first venture down the hallway, I was shocked by how quickly my body tired. Yet, I could already tell that the disabling pain I had before my surgery was gone.”
His experience at the Allegiance Heart and Vascular Center is distinguished by “simple examples of exceptional care,” James said. “For instance, when I was ready to order food from room service, they already knew my name and my dietary requirements. The food they sent up was remarkably delicious, and it was served with a smile.”
Shortly after his surgery, James had a special visitor, fellow open-heart patient Denny Kerwin. Denny’s wife, Barb, and James’s friend Mary Helen work together, and they asked Denny to stop by. “At first I didn’t feel like talking to anyone,” James recalled, “but Denny turned out to be kind of a mentor for me. He was both caring and very direct about what I could expect to experience—and he was right on the money.” James has since decided to join Denny in a new mentoring program for heart patients at Allegiance Health.
In the meantime, James finds he is “more appreciative than ever of the simple, but very important things in life, like the friends who have been there for me throughout this experience. I am also grateful for the strength of my body and the ability to get back on my bike,” he said. “I hadn’t realized how much I missed that.”