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Back Hiking Again After a Life-Saving Surgery for CTEPH

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Short of breath and not given long to live, Kirk turned to Temple for a specialized surgery that saved his life

Kirk often felt short of breath. His family doctor told him it was caused by smoking, even though he quit 10 years earlier.

In late 2020, Kirk’s breathing became progressively more difficult, and he started retaining fluid. He was admitted to a hospital near his Delaware home, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. But his condition continued to worsen.

Kirk was admitted to the hospital three more times over the next year. His cardiologist suspected he had congestive heart failure and gave him seven years to live. That number would drop to three years. And then he was informed he might not make it to the end of the year. 

“It was very depressing,” the 65-year-old Kirk says. “I didn’t know how much longer I had, or what kind of quality of life I would be left with. I used to be an avid hiker and mountain climber in the Adirondacks. I realized I was never going to do that again.”

Kirk says he reached a point where he was literally living breath to breath. Working was out of the question. The 10-foot walk from his bed to the bathroom exhausted him. Even the most basic functions became increasingly difficult. 

“We slowly stopped doing the things we loved,” Kirk’s wife, Ruth, says. “We used to take walks on the weekends. And then we resorted to driving by our favorite walking spots. Eventually, we stopped even doing that because Kirk was too tired to sit for any length of time.”

“Every day got progressively worse,” he says. “I was blacking out multiple times a day and starting to worry if the next time would be my last.”

A New Diagnosis and New Hope

In May 2021, Kirk’s cardiologist and pulmonologist had reason to think the root of his trouble wasn’t his heart, after all. They recommended he undergo a right-heart catheterization, a test used along with lung imaging tests to diagnose chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH), a life-threatening condition caused by blood clots in the lungs.

Kirk and his wife Ruth are getting back to the things they love, like going hiking and to other outings on weekends.

When Kirk’s condition deteriorated to a critical point five months later, his cardiologist and pulmonologist referred him to the Temple Heart & Vascular Institute, where he met with Paul Forfia, MD, Co-Director of Temple’s Pulmonary Hypertension, Right Heart Failure, and CTEPH Program.  Kirk was also cared for by program Co-Director Dr. Anjali Vaidya, as well as Dr. Estefania Oliveros.

Dr. Forfia promptly diagnosed Kirk with CTEPH. He informed Kirk that his left lung was 100% blocked and his right lung was 50% blocked. Worst of all, his heart was functioning at 50% of its capacity.

Dr. Forfia recommended he urgently undergo a procedure called pulmonary thromboendarterectomy (PTE), a complex surgery where the clots and resulting scar tissue are surgically removed from the pulmonary arteries. His surgeon, Yoshiya Toyoda, MD, PhD, Chief of Cardiovascular Surgery at Temple, delicately separated the clots from the artery walls, allowing blood to flow unobstructed between his heart and lungs. 

On His Way to a Full Recovery

Four months after Kirk’s surgery, he says he’s breathing better than he has in years. His lungs are mostly clear of clots and his heart is pumping more efficiently. He continues to undergo treatment, but he says he’s back to doing all of his everyday activities and the things he loves, including gardening with Ruth and taking walks together.

“Thanks to this surgery, I’m hiking a little more each week with my wife,” Kirk says. “I’ve been given a second chance. I thank God and everyone at Temple. They were totally amazing. The care I received was top-notch. I couldn’t have asked for anything more."

Kirk L.

"Everyone at Temple made me feel like l was family, like I was the most important patient in the whole hospital," Kirk said. "And they were all so encouraging.

“I haven’t had any issues. And if I did, I would feel totally confident that I could call and my problem would be solved immediately, or they could point me in the right direction,” he says. “It’s very reassuring to be in such good hands.”

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