Most people in Terry Douglass’ condition don’t make it to the hospital alive. “He came in with about the worst thing you can have,” says Dr. Peter Walinsky. An aortic Type A dissection meant the walls of Douglass’ main artery were torn. “He was also on one of the new blood thinners, so not only was it a very complicated operation, but he was on this powerful blood thinner for which there’s no reversal. We also had to put him on the heart-lung bypass machine and make his blood even thinner.”
Ever the perfectionist, Walinsky made sure every stitch was precise, stayed overnight to keep an eye on Douglass and performed follow-up treatment the next day. Today the retired pastor checks in with the surgeon every month or two.
Walinsky’s experience is vast, and he also specializes in transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) surgery. The procedure can be life-changing for patients with Heart Valve Disease, a condition Walinsky believes is one of the most underdiagnosed and undertreated health problems in America. He speaks passionately about the need for increased public awareness of the disease.
Whatever the procedure, Walinsky says there is no such thing as a routine case in heart surgery. It’s stressful, he acknowledges, but says meticulous planning, preparation and care are key before, during and after surgery. “If your good plan for some reason doesn’t work out, you have to have a plan b, c, d and e, all of which are also good plans.”
But in an emergency case like Terry Douglass’, it all comes down to experience and expertise. “The best moment for me is walking out of the operating room and going to tell the patient’s family that the case went well, and the patient is doing fine,” Walinsky says. “Seeing them back in the office afterward and seeing how they’ve recovered and how their life is completely different—that’s why I do what I do.’’
Read about more Healthcare Heroes here.