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  • Outdoorsman back on the trail after innovative heart procedure

    by Cole Cosgrove

    Five months after undergoing an innovative heart procedure at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital, a Puyallup man has regained the active lifestyle he thought he had lost forever. Now he hopes to build enough strength to someday summit Mount Rainier – a lifelong dream for the 61-year-old who grew up in the mountain’s shadow.

    “The surgery gave me back my validity,” said Dick Bacon, referring to the hybrid TT mini-maze procedure performed in April at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital.

    Strenuous activity has always been a part of Bacon’s life – he swam competitively in high school and college, he ran marathons and he led day hikes with the Tacoma Mountaineers.

    Yet in the past few years, his failing heart began to slow him down.

    “I was getting to the point that I had to carry a chair with me to walk a quarter mile, because I’d have to sit down and rest before I walked back,” Bacon said. “That wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted for myself.”

    A prescription medication wasn’t helping. Bacon mostly ignored the symptoms, until he couldn’t.

    Bacon was at Mount Baker to practice ice-axe arrest skills with his daughter when the effects of congestive heart failure and persistent atrial fibrillation caught up with him, which required an emergency trip down the mountain to a Bellingham hospital.

    “I could hear it bubbling in my lungs,” Bacon said. “It wasn’t a happy time.”

    Dick Bacon

    That experience prompted Bacon to visit the heart experts at the Cardiac Study Center in Tacoma, which also has offices in Puyallup, Gig Harbor, Lakewood and Covington.

    Bacon underwent a test that measures the percentage of blood that is pushed out of the heart. For most healthy people, 65 percent to 70 percent of the blood is pumped out. Bacon’s heart was at 19 percent.

    “So that’s why I was getting so tired so quickly,” Bacon said. “Even walking was really difficult for me. I’d walk a mile and I’d end up having to take a one- to two-hour nap to recover.”

    A defibrillator was installed to prevent sudden cardiac death, but that didn’t improve his energy levels. The Cardiac Study Center told him about a new procedure performed at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital.

    In April, Bacon underwent a hybrid TT mini-maze procedure – the most comprehensive option to treat atrial fibrillation. MultiCare Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Dennis Nichols and Cardiac Study Center Electrophysiologist Dr. Tariq Salam teamed up for the surgery.

    "Working together with the cardiac surgeons, we can improve the health of people with heart rhythm issues," Dr. Salam said this week. “This procedure will help more of our chronic symptomatic atrial fibrillation patients get back to their favorite activities."

    Performed on a beating heart, the hybrid TT mini-maze is a minimally-invasive surgical procedure that creates a new and defined electrical pathway (a surgically created "maze") for impulses to travel within the atria. Unlike the standard maze procedure, the hybrid TT maze procedure doesn’t require open-heart surgery. Instead, instruments are inserted through small incisions on the side of the chest.

    “For patients with long standing persistent atrial fibrillation, it appears, in preliminary studies, that the team approach offered by an Electrophysiologist and Cardiac Surgeon together offers a much greater success rate for freedom from atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Nichols said.

    In the weeks after his surgery, Bacon has returned to hiking trails around the Pacific Northwest. He hiked Mount Rainier’s Sourdough Ridge Trail on Aug. 20. As he continues to recover, he’ll keep his eyes toward the summit.

    “It’s one of the things I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve been putting it off,” Bacon said. “I’m over 60 -- sitting around watching television isn’t something that I can afford to do.”

    Posted on Sep 27, 2011 in East Pierce County, Cardiac, Voice of the Patient