A tonsillectomy, hernia surgery, gallbladder removal, a cervical discectomy and fusion for a disc problem in the neck, and a distal radius fracture repair for a broken wrist would all set the stage for Ted Alvarez’s next surgical journey. Although the Dallas resident has had his share of health challenges and medical procedures to power through, in all likelihood, the most significant is a coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG) that took place in December 2022.
CABG is the most common type of open-heart surgery performed on adults. It is used to improve blood flow to the heart when an artery becomes narrowed or blocked. A doctor may recommend coronary artery bypass grafting to lower a person’s risk of a heart attack if they have coronary heart disease. Or, in Ted’s case, in the event of an existing heart attack.
Coping with the Health Scare, and Then Some
It was Saturday night, Dec. 17th, and Ted had just finished playing a rather tedious computer game when he began feeling overly hot. He logged off and headed for bed only to become dizzy. Although he often experienced light-headedness due to bad sinus issues, this time it was more pronounced.
It was a cold night, but Ted began stripping down and had his wife get an ice-cold wet towel. After she wiped his face, arms, chest, legs, back — everywhere, the 61-year-old began to feel better. But his chest hurt.
Ted struggled to sleep and was uncomfortable most of the night. When his symptoms continued the next day, the Alvarezes made the decision to visit an urgent care clinic. “The clinic didn’t do much,” Ted recalls. “They saw I had a temperature and gave me something for constipation. They told me that if I didn’t get better by Monday, to go to the ER.”
Ted and his wife did end up going to a nearby Emergency Department, where he was promptly hooked up to an EKG. Then, the news came that he was having a heart attack.
Because the local ER wasn’t equipped to provide the level of care that Ted needed, he was transported to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano to be admitted to the intensive care unit. There, he was met by Brandon Hill, M.D., a physician on the hospital’s medical staff and a cardiothoracic surgeon at Texas Health Heart and Lung Surgical Specialists, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. An angiogram was performed to assess the extent of the blockage in Ted’s artery before the recommendation of coronary artery bypass graft surgery was made.
“Fortunately for me, Dr. Hill is extremely experienced and knowledgeable in the procedure and does many of the cardiac operations at Texas Health Plano and Dallas,” Ted says.
With the Christmas holiday just days away, the soonest Ted’s surgery could be performed was Dec. 27. That meant a stay in the hospital through the holiday and during one of the area’s coldest weeks of the season. The low temperatures forced Ted’s wife to remain at home to ensure no pipes froze in the couple’s house. But as (bad) luck would have it, water began gushing from the ceiling over the Alvarezes’ garage the night of Dec. 23. “The emergency really struck me,” Ted admits. “I felt so helpless and so far away. … After we dealt with the issue, it made me think, ‘Crises happen even though you’re having open-heart surgery.’ No matter how bad life might be going, things still happen that must be dealt with.”
Santa Claus in the ICU
While Ted awaited his surgery day, he was encouraged by the hospital staff to walk the halls to get in shape for what was to come. He got to know his caregivers and when his wife’s sister sent chocolate covered cherries and other goodies for him, Ted passed them along to the staff (not sure if he should eat them). A visit from Hill on Christmas Eve put an end to the mystery of the chocolates.
“He told me not to give away my candy, that it was perfectly okay to eat some and that it would have zero effect on the surgery. So I ate one, as prescribed by my surgeon, but I also continued my gift-giving. I had become Santa Claus of the cardiac ward and I wasn’t willing to give up my position,” Ted jokes.
Advanced Care (and Good Weather) to Heal the Heart
On the day of surgery, Ted says he remembers the conversation he had with Hill very well. “I wasn’t scared. I knew I was in good hands. I called my wife and told her the same thing. I also told her that I loved her and that I would see her soon.”
Hill ended up performing quadruple bypass surgery with grafting that used healthy veins from Ted’s body to bridge the blockages to his heart. As Ted healed in the days following his surgery, the weather outside his hospital window improved as well. On one particular day, he was especially inspired by something that might seem rather trivial to others.
“When I awoke, an amazing thing happened,” Ted says. “The sunshine had moved across the room and stopped exactly on my chest. It felt as if the sun was healing my chest. For about 45 uninterrupted minutes, I healed physically and mentally in that sunshine. I knew I was going to be okay!”
Ted went home on Jan. 1, 2023, with a stronger heart and a deep appreciation for Hill and the many caregivers who helped him during his “Christmas vacation” at Texas Health Plano.