Patient Story: Thomas Amabisca

Thomas Amabisca was no stranger to heart problems when his doctor noticed a little murmur five or six years go. Back in the 1980s, he was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. He had an extra electrical pathway in his heart that caused his heart to race at times.

Through that earlier experience, Thomas had learned it was worth looking around for a minimally invasive option when needing a procedure for a heart condition. He was glad his heart rhythm issue could be corrected using catheter-based treatment.

So when Thomas’ murmur turned out to be his aortic valve going bad, he hoped to again avoid an open-chest procedure. Thomas worked with his doctor to safely take a wait-and-see approach. He visited his doctor every six months to see how the valve was doing.

That plan changed the beginning of 2021. An avid hiker who had conquered the Timberline Trail around Mount Hood, Thomas found himself getting fatigued just taking walks around his neighborhood. “Usually, I could go up those hills, but I was starting to really work at it,” he explains.

His doctor said surgery was needed. While assessing Thomas for any underlying conditions, his surgeon discovered Thomas had been born with two instead of three valve leaflets — small flaps that open and close to keep blood flowing the correct direction. A new aortic valve was needed.

Open-heart surgery was scheduled for April 2021, but Thomas really wanted to avoid having his chest opened, a method called a sternotomy. The recovery from a sternotomy is long, including no driving for six months. “I’m a pretty active guy,” he remembers thinking. “I’m going to miss summer!”

Concerned, Thomas spent time poking around YouTube videos to learn what his operation was going to be like. That’s how he discovered some surgeons were doing valve surgeries using minimally invasive techniques. A little more research led him to Dr. Thomas Molloy at Adventist Health’s Northwest Regional Heart & Vascular.

Just two days later, Thomas was visiting with Dr. Molloy, who ran test and determined Thomas was indeed a candidate for minimally invasive aortic valve replacement. Prep for surgery began.

“Everyone was nice,” Thomas says. “I was very happy with them.” Dr. Molloy’s team left no stone unturned preparing him for a successful outcome.

“They even checked for dental issues that would have bacteria that could impact valves,” Thomas recalls. He turned out to have a root infection he didn’t know about, but the Northwest Regional team quickly arranged for a root canal so Thomas could move forward on his surgery.

When the day of his surgery arrived, Thomas was comforted by how down to earth Dr. Molloy was and how the staff helped with every detail, including arranging a stay in a nearby hotel so he and his wife could access the hospital easily. As expected, Dr. Molloy was able to implant a bovine aortic valve replacement using minimally invasive surgery. Instead of separating Thomas’ sternum, Dr. Molloy only had to remove part of one rib to access the area.

“Next thing I know, my wife’s sitting there looking at me,” Thomas says. Just two days after surgery, Thomas was managing his pain without narcotics. On day four, he was able to leave the hospital.

The new valve has provided a new lease on life for Thomas. “I can’t remember the last time I felt this good,” he says. “Everything is brighter. The sky is bluer. Places I used to hike and be out of breath, I just go right up with no problem.”

Instead of spending his summer recovering from a sternotomy, Thomas able to take in urban hiking. After his six-month checkup, he was declared good to go, so now he’s planning to climb South Sister in the Cascades.

Thomas says he know three people who went the open-heart route, and all of them are envious of his recovery. “It’s not as scary as you think, especially with Dr. Molloy,” Thomas says. “I can’t recommend him and his staff enough.”

He’s relieved to put his heart troubles in the rear-view mirror and get on with his life. He doesn’t need a heart checkup for another year, and he’s grateful he found a surgeon experienced in minimally invasive aortic valve replacement.

“I don’t have to worry about going out there anymore,” Thomas says. “I know I can climb that hill.”

If you wonder if you or someone you love is a candidate for minimally invasive heart valve surgery, call Dr. Molloy’s office at 503-261-4430.