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Heart Surgery Brings Quality of Life for Older Patient

At 89 years old, Curtis Erickson says he still has a lot of living left to do. The avid golfer intends to keep enjoying the game with friends while also spending time with his beloved family which includes five – soon to be seven – great-grandchildren.

“Life couldn’t be any better,” Curtis says.

It is exactly this outlook that Edward Savage, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health, looks for in patients for whom he may recommend heart surgery.

Curtis walking with his wife outside.
Curtis was in good health prior to his surgery making him a candidate for open-heart coronary bypass. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

“Determinants for being a candidate for heart surgery are functional and physical status, not necessarily chronological age,” Dr. Savage says.

When Curtis was referred to Dr. Savage for coronary bypass surgery last year, he was in overall good health despite his age and had the will to get through the surgery to feel better.

“His condition was an impediment to how he wanted his life to be,” Dr. Savage says. “He was a motivated guy.”

Curtis had been dealing with shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue and significantly reduced heart function when his cardiologist referred him to Dr. Savage. He had coronary artery disease and was not a candidate for stents. His only treatment option was open-heart bypass surgery.

Dr. Savage was hesitant initially to recommend surgery since Curtis had reduced heart function and also had undergone heart surgery 10 years prior to have a valve replaced.

“But he was very motivated and functionally in good status,” Dr. Savage says. “For him, 89 wasn’t an age, either.  He had all these other things to do and was not ready to throw in the towel. He wanted to feel better to do the things he wanted to do.”

So, on April 5, 2023, Curtis underwent open-heart surgery at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health.

Dr. Edward Savage performing Curtis' open-heart bypass surgery.
Edward Savage, MD performed open-heart coronary bypass on Curtis despite his initial hesitation. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

Though he was nervous, Curtis said he was shocked at “how calm and reassured I felt when I went down (to the operating room).”

“Dr. Savage has a wonderful way about him,” Curtis says. “He gives you so much confidence.”

Three days after his operation, Curtis was discharged from the hospital. Three months later he was back on the golf course.

“This was my goal all the way through,” Curtis says. “It was a miracle to me.”

Dr. Savage says a team approach is key to successful outcomes in heart surgery. It is important to empower patients by making recommendations and involving them in the decision-making process.

“You have to be motivated to do this,” he says. “It’s not easy. I tell patients that it’s going to be hard, but you can get through this, and you can’t give up. You have to devote energy to recovering. You have to eat, follow instructions and get out of bed.”

He adds that most of his patients are usually “on the road to complete recovery” within a few weeks.

Curtis listening to his wife play the piano.
Curtis was able to make a full recovery after his surgery and return to golfing in just a few weeks. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

“It turned out just wonderful for me. I’m so glad Cleveland Clinic is here,” Curtis says. After living in many different cities during his career in school photography, he moved to the Stuart, Florida, area in 1981. For the past eight years he and his companion, Vicky, have been splitting their time between Florida and Michigan. “I feel very blessed.”

Related Institutes: Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute (Miller Family)
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