GREENCASTLE, Indiana - On November 22, 2016, Lester Wilson thought he knew what was wrong with him. His ailing father had fallen, and Lester had helped him up, nearly carrying him, and Lester worried what the strain would do to his current umbilical hernia. Around 2:30 a.m., Lester woke up in pain.
A longtime Greencastle resident and local photographer, Lester went to the Putnam County Hospital emergency room. Sure enough, it looked like he would need surgery to have his hernia repaired immediately. What's more, his gallbladder would have to come out, as it had been the source of the new pain Lester had experienced.
But then the ER doc surprised Lester with more news.
"Did you know you have a heart murmur?"
He didn't. At 61, Lester had had few health issues. He didn't smoke, and he'd lost 100 pounds about 10 years ago to get back to a more healthy weight. Before he could wonder what he'd do next after hearing this news, the ER physician said, "If you need surgery in the future, you will want to see Dr. Marc Gerdisch."
For two years, Franciscan Health has partnered with Putnam County Hospital to bring specialized care services to Greencastle and surrounding communities, including cardiac, diabetes and cancer care. Cardiologists from Indiana Heart Physicians, a Franciscan Physician Network practice, started seeing patients in Greencastle in the fall of 2015. This arrangement makes it possible for residents to see a specialist closer to home and travel to a major medical center only for advanced care, including heart valve surgery, a specialty of Dr. Gerdisch of Cardiac Surgery Associates (CSA) in Indianapolis.
Vijay Rao, MD, PhD, met Lester for the first time as Lester came out of surgery for his hernia and gallbladder. He explained to Lester and his family that the heart murmur was serious and that it needed to be monitored closely. Dr. Rao scheduled Lester for a cardiac catheterization and transesophageal echocardiogram in Indianapolis on Decemeber 15. The procedures revealed that the blood vessels feeding Lester's heart were healthy, but the mitral valve leaflets inside Lester's heart were not closing properly and allowed blood to travel in the wrong direction. The condition was so advanced that Lester would need valve surgery sooner rather than later. Dr. Gerdisch’s name resurfaced.
"Once we started talking about surgery, I did my homework," said Lester. He looked up information about valve repair and replacements."I asked myself, when I meet the surgeon, what am I going to ask him?" he said.
“Lester’s case was unique,” said Dr. Gerdisch, “because his murmur seemed to develop over a short period of time and the structural changes in the valve were advanced. He needed several of the chordae, or strings, inside the heart that control the mitral valve replaced and the leaflets reshaped to meet properly.”
In addition, Dr. Gerdisch said he would be able to perform this surgery minimally invasively, through a small incision between the ribs under the right breast. By doing so, Lester would be back to full activity quickly. As Lester listened to the surgeon’s explanation, he felt more at ease and found the information easy to understand.
Yet he waited for one important piece of information: What was the risk of this kind of surgery?
"I didn't have to ask," said Lester. "I think Dr. Gerdisch read me as an individual and knew how to talk to me. He told me my chance of dying was less than 1 percent. That meant I had a 99 percent chance of surviving! That was good enough for me."
Lester had his surgery at Franciscan Health Indianapolis on a Thursday in March. Three days later, he was home, and on Wednesday he was back in his shop cutting mats for photos.
He started cardiac rehab at Putnam County Hospital and went three times a week for 12 weeks. Judy, his wife of 44 years, now joins him at a local fitness center, and he encouraged her to get a $49 heart scan offered at Putnam, thanks to Franciscan Health.
"I've learned to listen to my body," he said. He's also appreciative of the connection between Putnam County and Franciscan Health. "The emergency staff did their job in November when they caught my murmur," said Lester. "If they hadn't, I wouldn't have had surgery in March."
"Lester's story is one of many invaluable experiences our patients have had, thanks to our partnership with Franciscan Health," said Dennis Weatherford, Putnam County Hospital CEO. "It is unusual to have cardiologists on-site five days a week in a small community. We give our patients a full-time cardiology clinic plus nationally renowned cardiologists who provide the very best in heart care and are vested in our community."