By Lowell Green
This is my personal story about how the team at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute saved my life, no question about it.
As a former patient of the Heart Institute, I can tell you that the care I received was world-class. Here is how my journey began.
My wife and I were vacationing in the Bahamas in late November 2014, having a wonderful time golfing. Throughout our vacation, I was feeling short of breath. Previously, I had never had any pain or sign that I had a heart problem. I had experienced shortness of breath on and off for about a year but it got to a point on our trip where I could barely place the golf tee in the ground.
One day after returning home— which my wife refers to as “the day our lives changed” — I went to the Queensway-Carleton Hospital in Ottawa, where they discovered my heart was racing. A cardioversion was performed to get my heart back to normal speed. Then, for about a week, the hospital staff conducted every test known to mankind to figure out what was wrong with me.
I originally thought they were just going to give me a pill or something and I’d be back home again. I was wrong. I was transferred immediately to the Heart Institute. At the Heart Institute, it was discovered that I had two blockages, and a very badly scarred and weakened heart. I was told that I must have had a heart attack at some point throughout the year. I was in shock. I had no recollection whatsoever ofa heart attack or any heart problems. My only symptom was an incredible shortness of breath.
At first, the Heart Institute considered just inserting stents. An angiogram determined that it would not be enough. I needed life-saving surgery.
My surgery which took place December 17, 2014, went well. Dr. Marc Ruel, who did my procedure, is a miracle worker! That said, I had a lot of recovering to do. I spent a tough couple of weeks in recovery at the Heart Institute, but each day I was a little bit better. My first walk occurred on Christmas Eve when I successfully did 30 metres. Unfortunately, I was still in the hospital on Christmas Day but Dr. Ruel was kind enough to visit and bring his two children along to see all his patients.On December 31, just before the New Year began, I finally made it home. By January 11, I was starting to feel more like myself.
One very important key to recovery after open heart surgery is walking — so as soon as I started feeling better, I got moving. As you might recall, it was a frigid January. Instead of trudging outside in the snow and ice, I went mall walking. My rehabilitation began January 12th. It was wonderful to be walking again!
I have been a talk-radio host for more than 40 years—so suffice i t to say I am often recognized when I’m out and about in the city. Because I had been off the air for a few weeks, people were stopping me all the time when I was out on my walks, wishing me well and sharing their amazing personal stories about the Heart Institute.
In fact, one time when I was walking gingerly at the Hazeldean Mall, a man ran up to me and ripped open his shirt to show me the scar on his chest! We were all part of the same club.
As great as it was to receive such public support, this was interfering with my need for continuous walking. I later found that if I went up to the third floor at the Bayshore Mall fairly early in the morning, it was a bit quieter, and I could get more exercise! One of the wonderful things about the Heart Institute is the treatment you continue to receive once the operation is over.
For about three months post-surgery, I used a very neat technology device that woke me up every day with a recorded greeting, “Good morning!” I was directed to stand on the scale, and then my blood pressure and weight would be recorded and sent wirelessly to the hospital. The device would also ask me questions like whether my ankles were swollen, or if I had been feeling short of breath. Again, everything was then transmitted to the hospital. This device is part of the Heart Institute’s telehome monitoring program.
It was a bit of a pain in the butt on a Saturday morning when I didn’t have to go to work and I wanted to sleep in! But I was glad to be able to get up, believe me. And it was great not having to go to the hospital all the time for check-ups, because the Heart Institute was monitoring me from my own home.
I’ve had a couple of setbacks since my first surgery. Because my heart was still not performing as well as it should, the Heart Institute inserted a defibrillator into my chest in late June 2015. Again, the hospital gave me another piece of equipment to help them keep track of my well-being. I simply plug in to a phone jack near my bed, and information is wirelessly sent back to the hospital to tell them how my heart (and the defibrillator) are performing.
Now that I’m part of the “heart club,” I’ve turned my life around. I cut back on the salt! We don’t realize how much salt is in everything we eat. Reducing my salt intake was hard for me at first but with help from my wife Debbie, we have successfully cut out all processed meats and most canned goods. My adult daughter was adding salt to her meal a couple of months ago, and I literally took the shaker from her and threw it out the door! Since my first surgery at th e Heart Institute, I have lost about 45 pounds—and I hope to lose 10 more.
I returned to work in early 2015. Today, I’m performing as well as before, maybe even better.
I am lucky to be alive. Dr. Ruel told me I was a “time bomb” waiting to go off. Knowing what I know now, I can’t believe I didn’t drop dead on one of the golf fairways in the Bahamas in November 2014.
We are incredibly fortunate to have the Heart Institute. The experts are all there, under one roof. They perform miracles.
Watch my story