Patient Stories

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Read how St. Luke's Heart & Vascular Center has helped these patients.

James Layton's Story

When James Layton of Quakertown awoke after having an aortic valve in his heart replaced at St. Luke's University Hospital – Bethlehem  in September 2010, he was surprised to see that his bed was surrounded by people in white coats. “They told me I was a celebrity,” he recalls, “And the care that I got made me feel like one.”

Dr. Stephen Olenchock, the surgeon who performed the valve replacement, says Layton was the first patient at St. Luke's to undergo an innovative, minimally invasive procedure. Dr. Olenchock, who is chief of cardiovascular surgery at St. Luke's, explains that instead of dividing the entire breastbone, a 3-inch incision and a much smaller disturbance of the sternum shortens the hospital stay, lowers the risk of infection, reduces recovery time and spares the patient loss of blood and pain.

Layton, 49, is an aquatic biologist who works for a large company that produces fish pond and fish tank supplies. He had not had any pain or other symptoms, but his wife, Barbara, told him she thought he wasn't himself. She suggested he see the family doctor in Quakertown, Dr. Paul Marion. Dr. Marion heard what sounded like a leaking heart valve, or a “murmur.”

Next, Layton went to see cardiologist Dr. Marcus A. Averbach, who recommended that he meet with Dr. Olenchock. As he describes the meeting, “He was very friendly and he explained everything. I had no worries with him or St. Luke's, and when I went in, everybody made me feel as good as possible.”

Dr. Olenchock says, “Valve problems can be hard to diagnose because the patient may feel no pain. So when a patient who feels relatively well is told he needs heart surgery, I want to be reassuring and to explain the procedure fully.”

Team Approach to Care Makes a Difference

While Layton thinks the care he got post-surgery was exceptional, Dr. Olenchock says it was actually much like the care every surgery patient receives. “One of the things St. Luke's does well is to bring the whole team to see a patient. There's the surgeon, nurse practitioner, physician's assistant, nurses, physical therapist, occupational therapist, pharmacist and, case managers. “It's not about us. It's about addressing the patient's needs and answering questions.”

Layton spent only five days in the hospital. He had been fairly active, walking and doing light cardio and weight workouts at a gym he belongs to. He soon was walking on a treadmill again and happy to have very little pain and only a small scar. He didn't go for physical therapy because he was feeling better than he had in some time. “When a visiting nurse came, she was surprised that I was the guy who had heart surgery because I looked so healthy,” Layton says. Best of all to him, he was able to return to his job at Mars Fishcare in Chalfont in only one month.

Dr. Olenchock explains that Layton received a mechanical valve partly because of his relatively young age. “The mechanical valve can serve him well for the rest of his life.” Tissue valves also can be used, and often are the choice for older patients, he says.

The minimally invasive valve replacement is good for patients who have a constricted or leaking valve without other cardiac-related symptoms. Because it is a less stressful procedure, it also is good for older patients who might not be candidates for traditional valve-repair surgery. He says, “This is great surgery for anyone who needs aortic valve surgery.”

Adds James Layton, “ I would tell anyone who is considering this kind of surgery – go to St. Luke's!”

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Charlie Connely’s Story

Charlie Connely, teacher at Mount Carmel Area High School and long-time assistant coach for Marian Catholic High School football team, felt a sharp pain in the middle of his chest during half-time of the season opener. The pain disappeared until midnight when Charlie began experiencing tightness in his chest and pain in his jaw and arm. After telling his wife he was having a heart attack, Charlie was taken to St. Luke's Miners Campus where he was quickly stabilized and transported to St. Luke’s Allentown Campus.

At St. Luke’s Allentown CampusDr. Raymond Durkin discovered a fully blocked artery at the back of Charlie’s heart and immediately inserted a stent. The procedure was complete and Charlie was feeling better by the time his wife joined him at the hospital. Three weeks later, Charlie was back at school doing what he loves most, teaching.

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John Haney’s Story

John Haney, an avid cyclist, was diagnosed with aortic stenosis years ago and knew he would eventually need valve replacement surgery.

So when he started feeling discomfort in his chest after cycling John went to his cardiologist, Dr. Marcus Averbach. After a cardiac catheterization, John learned that his left anterior descending coronary artery, known as “the widow-maker artery,” was 90% blocked.

Dr. Stephen A. Olenchock, Jr. performed bypass surgery and replaced John’s faulty heart valve. Three days after that, he was discharged, and in four weeks he was back at work. John credits the expertise of his doctors at St. Luke’s Heart & Vascular Center and his remarkable cardiac rehab for his rapid recovery. He is once again doing what he loves most... biking.

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Eugene Gallagher’s Story

Although Eugene Gallagher crafts musical instruments for a living, his own rhythm was out of sync. Living with atrial fibrillation (A-fib) for many years, Eugene underwent multiple electrical cardioversions and two cardiac ablations to convert his irregular heart rhythm back to normal. Not long after the second ablation Eugene’s irregular heartbeat returned. That’s when Eugene’s cardiologist referred him to St. Luke’s Heart & Vascular Center for a radiofrequency ablation.

Dr. Darren Traub, specializing in electrophysiology, continues to monitor his condition and prescribed a new medication – Tikosyn – to control Eugene’s A-fib. Thanks to the quality care provided by the St. Luke’s Heart & Vascular Center, Eugene’s got his rhythm back.

Now his heart never skips a beat.

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Joan Peter’s Story

Joan Peter, 84, leads an active lifestyle. Poker is her game of choice. After suddenly losing consciousness, Joan's primary care doctor referred her to St. Luke's cardiologist Dr. Arjinder Sethi.

Dr. Sethi evaluated Joan's complex medical history which includes cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and mitral valve disorder. He made modifications to Joan's extensive medication list, got her a defibrillator implantation and recommended a low calorie / low sodium diet.

Today, Joan's lightheadedness episodes are gone, her blood pressure and cholesterol are under control, and she feels she's been dealt a whole new hand. Joan is back in the game again.

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Bruce Haines Patient Story

Hear what our patients are saying about their experience with St. Luke's Heart & Vascular Center.

From a Local Coach

“I coached basketball for 26 years. I also love to travel and spend time woodworking. Then, I had a pain in my back that wouldn't go away. Turns out it was related to my heart of all things. The cardiologists at St. Luke's Allentown Campus knew exactly what to do, and explained it to me, on my terms. They opened my blocked artery with a drug-eluting stent in the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory.

And the care I received — it was great! Now, I'm back to doing what I love.”

Ernest Werner's Story
His Life Was Changed Forever

Ernest Werner was always too sick to get around.  He had difficultly breathing and spent much of his day in a chair or in bed.  Mr. Werner was the recipient of a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD).  "My husband is now talking more, enjoying life again.  He is much happier; and laughs and smiles once again.  He drives and plans to go hunting.  He no longer says he's tired which I heard 15 times a day.  We are thrilled that Ernie has extra life.  We are once again enjoying ourselves. At least now we can go and travel."

John Kohnlein's Story

Patient’s Management of Peripheral Artery Disease Is Now a “Walk in the Park”
John Kohnlein looks forward to walking through Hershey Park this spring during his family’s annual jaunt.

“Just a couple of years ago I had to use a scooter to get around. Last year I walked the whole park and hopefully this year I can walk even further,” says John. For years doctors encouraged John to walk more but his leg pains were limiting him to very short distances. Now, thanks to St. Luke’s Heart & Vascular Center, he’s walking without limitations.

A diabetic who had open-heart surgery more than seven years ago, John feels better today than he has in a long time. Shortly after his cardiac surgery in 2007, he was diagnosed with Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), in which plaque build-up in the arteries limits blood flow to the legs.

Over several years Interventional Radiologist Jamie Thomas, DO of the Heart & Vascular Center had successfully performed stenting on John’s legs to widen narrowed arteries and restore blood flow. Unfortunately, his condition progressed and stenting was no longer an effective option for his right leg.

At that time, Vascular Surgeon James Balshi, MD performed a femoral-popliteal bypass, providing blood flow around the blocked arteries, relieving the pain in his calves and feet when walking. 

“Dr. Balshi is extremely professional,” John says. “He always has a smile on his face.” John sees Dr. Balshi every six months for regular check-ups and acknowledges they have built a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. Since the original bypass, Dr. Balshi has stented John’s left leg, conducted another bypass and performed carotid artery surgery within an 18-month period. 

For the first time in many years, John’s sugar levels, blood pressure, and the pulses in his feet, are all within acceptable ranges. As a result, he no longer struggles with leg pain. John credits Dr. Balshi and the team at the Heart & Vascular Center with his improved health. “They all kept an eye on my legs and performed procedures as needed,” explains John. “Everybody is professional, personable and does their job well.”

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James Fletcher’s Story

Positive Experience at St. Luke’s Anderson Hospital Diagnoses Cardiomyopathy and Cures Patient’s Fear of Doctors

For years, James Fletcher’s fear and distrust of doctors posed a major threat to his health. But, all that changed after a life-threatening condition led him to St. Luke’s Anderson and Dwithiya K. Thomas, MD.

When James first met Dr. Thomas, his body had swollen with so much fluid that his weight inflated to nearly 300 pounds. The fluid retention contributed to a type of bacterial skin infection called cellulitis, which was so advanced that his legs were covered with open sores. Seriously depressed, James only sought help because of his family’s pleading – just in time. “They told me at the hospital that if I hadn’t gone to the hospital when I did, I wouldn’t have made it,” James says.

Dr. Thomas diagnosed James with a weakened heart muscle and congestive heart failure and prescribed a combination of heart medications as well as a strong diuretic (water pill). After a few days in intensive care, he was moved to a private room and discharged shortly thereafter. Today, James feels great and is happy. His weight and blood pressure are under control, and his heart function has improved significantly since being on the right medications.  More importantly, he walks without shortness of breath. And, as for Dr. Thomas, “I see her like clockwork because I trust her and feel safe with her,” he says.

This was not James’ first hospitalization for this condition. Several years earlier, he was admitted to a hospital in New Jersey, where the physicians wanted to amputate his leg. James refused and recovered with the help of antibiotics, but his fear of doctors and hospitals continued until he was admitted to the Anderson Campus.

“Everyone at St. Luke’s is concerned about you as a human being,” he says. “They explain everything to you and keep you calm. I can’t say enough good things about all of them.” James was particularly touched by one of his ICU nurses who visited him after he was moved into a private room. “I felt good and I was getting better,” James says of his hospital stay, “It was a hospital experience that I didn’t mind having.”

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