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Near and Dear to Our Hearts
Cardiothoracic Surgery


Near and Dear to Our Hearts


Joseph Auteri, MD and John Mitchell



John Mitchell, executive director of cardiovascular services at Doylestown Hospital, is a fixture in the organization. He is well-respected for his expertise and well-liked for his upbeat personality. He's won "Best Boss" awards. He is steadfast in his commitment to excellence, passionate about his work, and highly approachable. Yet, while John spent years dealing with other people's cardiac issues, he missed the warning signs of his own...

John started his career in cardiovascular care in 1979 as a perfusionist, operating the heart-lung machine that is used during bypass surgery. He came to Doylestown Hospital in 2000 to help open the Heart Center (now the Richard A. Reif Heart Institute of Doylestown Hospital).

For more than 30 years, John has worked closely with skilled physicians and stayed on top of all things heart related."I know this information," he says, "I'm in the business." He's also very aware of his own family's heart history, which includes a father who had his first heart attack at age 35. Heart disease is on his mother's side of the family, too. So, John should know when to go see a doctor about heart symptoms, right?

Maybe not. When John felt something like indigestion when he exercised, he waited. "The first few times, I thought it was coincidental," he says. "Then when it continued happening, I thought, "This might be something I should be concerned about." Still, he waited. Eight weeks, to be exact. He had originally told his wife, Mary, about the symptoms at the four-week mark, but he still waited.

It wasn't his knowledge of heart symptoms that finally prompted John to seek attention. It was an ultimatum from his wife. "It happened on a Friday before work," he recalls. She said, "If you don't see a cardiologist today, don't come home."

Later that afternoon, John finally approached Doylestown Hospital interventional cardiologist Steven Guidera, MD, who sat reading reports in one of the cath labs at the Heart Institute. John told Dr. Guidera about his symptoms, and before he knew it, he had six prescriptions in his hand. One was for a cardiac stress test on Monday.

That stress test didn't go well, and it became clear that John needed a cardiac catheterization. By Monday afternoon, Dr. Guidera had him in the cath lab. His left anterior descending (LAD) artery was 100% blocked. At that moment, I knew I had to have heart surgery, John says.

John didn't have time to dwell on the irony of his situation. Three of his coronary arteries (blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart) were blocked. He needed coronary bypass surgery (also known as coronary artery bypass graft or CABG) to restore blood flow to his heart. During this procedure, the surgeon takes a healthy blood vessel from another part of the patient's body and uses it to re-route the blood around the clogged artery or arteries.

John never considered going anywhere besides the Heart Institute of Doylestown Hospital. Before he started working there, John had worked at several prestigious Philadelphia hospitals that are located closer to his home. But he knew firsthand the caliber of Doylestown's cardiac team, from the anesthesiologists who specialize in cardiac procedures to the specially trained nurses who would care for him after his surgery. John trusted his colleagues with his life.

I've personally experienced what it's like being a heart patient. I realize we do things really well at Doylestown, from testing before surgery all the way to rehab after a procedure.

On February 20, 2012, cardiothoracic surgeon Joseph Auteri, MD, medical director of the Heart Institute of Doylestown Hospital, performed John's triple bypass. The surgery went well. John learned to appreciate his staff's dedication and expertise from a different point of view, that of a patient. "I couldn't have had more support," John says. "It was really moving." In the hospital, John started.

I've personally experienced what it's like being a heart patient. I realize we do things really well at Doylestown, from testing before surgery all the way to rehab after a procedure.

Phase 1 of Doylestown Hospital's cardiac rehabilitation program. When John recalls his experience, he is sure to mention how his wife reacted to their hospital experience.  She was "blown away," he says. "It was unbelievable, both the care I got and the care they gave to us as a family. It was about as good an experience a person having heart surgery could have."

A New Beginning. John returned home with his doctor's orders to rest and recuperate, buthe's not one to sit still for long. "I watched so much college basketball I was sick of it," says John. And I love college basketball." Four weeks after his surgery, John came back to the Heart Institute not as a patient, but as executive director, part-time at first. While it was good to be back, John knew there was more work to do when it came to his own health. He started Phase 2 of cardiac rehabilitation that day.

John says that before his surgery, he exercised occasionally, usually walking. He described his pre-surgery diet as "not terrible." But with "two big strikes" against him in the form of family history and a bypass, he knew he needed to do more to lower his risk factors for heart problems. "Going forward, I had to make these changes so I would live a little longer."

John worked closely with David Martens, MS, CES, clinical manager of cardiac rehabilitation at Doylestown Hospital, to develop a program that was effective and manageable. After completing the rehabilitation program, John joined a gym closer to after his procedure, John started seeing and feeling results, gaining motivation along the way. Today, he continues to work out five to six days a week.

"Fitness has become part of my daily routine," he says. "It has become ingrained in my behavior now." In addition to exercising regularly, John also eats a low-fat diet. He clearly sees the impacts of a heart-healthy lifestyle when he compares himself before and after his bypass surgery. John has heeded his wake-up call.

These days, he feels great and is determined to maintain and even expand upon his success. In the end, his experience has strengthened his dedication to providing the best care possible to people like himself. "I've personally experienced what it's like being a heart patient. I realize we do things really well at Doylestown, from testing before surgery all the way to rehab after a procedure. It makes me feel good about what we do. I am proud of our program and proud to be a part of it.

The Numbers Before and After

John's Blood Pressure:
Pre resting BP average: 122/72 Post resting BP average: 115/65 (no risk)

John's Numbers:
LDL Cholesterol Pre LDL: 124 mg/dL Post LDL: 70 mg/dL (risk reduction of 33%)

John's Body Composition Pre-Weight:
220.3 lbs (BMI 30.8) at risk for CHD Post Weight: 200.7 lbs (BMI 28.1)

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