Adventure Awaits...After Open Heart Surgery

When Roger Woods was in his late 50s, he decided he was going to hike the Grand Canyon on his 70th birthday. He knew it would be a difficult trek requiring a lot of training and physical strength, but he didn’t realize that he would be doing it just one year after open heart surgery.

Open Heart Surgery 1Roger learned in March 2013 that he needed surgery to repair an ascending aortic aneurysm – a bulge in the aorta closest to the heart. Just five days before Roger’s 69th birthday, the surgery was performed by cardiovascular surgeon José Norberto, M.D., medical director of cardiac surgery at Fairfield Medical Center.

Although the surgery wasn’t part of Roger’s plan, he did not let it derail him from his Grand Canyon goal. Shortly after completing cardiopulmonary rehab at FMC, he started training – with the blessing of his doctors – to take the hike of a lifetime the following spring.

Roger first started seeing a cardiologist after he was struck by stray voltage from lightning in 1999. The accident caused atrial fibrillation, or an abnormal heartbeat, that remained stable for years.

However, at one of Roger’s routine check-ups, his cardiologist at FMC, Jeremy Buckley, M.D., noticed a change in Roger’s condition. He sent Roger to Dr. Norberto, who diagnosed him with an ascending aortic aneurysm and told him he would need surgery.

While Roger expressed skepticism about undergoing surgery right away, Dr. Norberto told him his chances were better if the aneurysm surgery was performed electively rather than as an emergency. Prior to surgery, he also told Roger he should try to be the “perfect patient.”

It was advice Roger took to heart. Six months later, he began training for the Grand Canyon hike he had planned years before. He did the majority of his training at Mt. Pleasant in Lancaster, which he hiked in all weather conditions. He even hiked up Mt. Pleasant and back down 28 times in one day.

On March 24, Roger strapped 35 pounds of camping equipment and food onto his back and descended into the Grand Canyon with his daughter.

“As you’re hiking, you’re constantly looking down at your feet because it’s such a rough, uneven trail,” Roger said. “It’s much worse going down than coming back up.”

The duo spent two nights on the canyon floor, one of which was Roger’s birthday. On March 26, they made the long hike back up to the top.

Open Heart Surgery 2“I had a lot of help training, but when you take that first step into the Grand Canyon, you’re on your own and nothing can truly prepare you for it,” he said. “When you finish, you’re not coming out of the canyon cheering and waving your arms in the air. Most people are barely crawling out.”

Dr. Buckley said he was thrilled to hear Roger had made the trek.

“At each clinic visit after surgery, I became more and more impressed with Roger’s dedication to his goal,” he said. “He was methodical in his training. His treks up Mt. Pleasant multiple times a day to train were especially memorable.”

Roger said he’s in even better shape today than before surgery and is grateful for the care he received from his physicians.

Tags: Heart Surgery, Cardio, Jeremy Buckley, José Norberto,