Taken by Surprise: Faris Van Bibber’s Life After a Heart Attack
Faris Van Bibber lived a perfectly healthy life before suffering a heart attack due to a genetic disorder called bicuspid valve disease.
Seven years ago, Faris Van Bibber suffered a heart attack.
But Faris wasn’t ill at the time. He was in immaculate health, actually — his diet was nearly impeccable, and he had no high cholesterol or blood pressure to speak of.
Faris was active. He exercised six days a week, traveled the world, enjoyed scuba diving. He’s explored the Roman ruins of Turkey, dived all around the world and embarked on long-range fishing trips.
Faris relishes these experiences. “I’ve had whales come up so close to the boat, you could smell their breath.”
But Faris’ healthy lifestyle cannot reverse the effects of his genetic heart condition — bicuspid aortic valve disease (BAVD).
A normal aortic valve has three small flaps or leaflets that open widely and close securely to regulate blood flow. With BAVD, the valve has just two leaflets and thus cannot function properly and regulate blood flow efficiently.
After his heart attack, Faris required a stent procedure where a small mesh tube is placed in an artery to support the narrow or weak arteries. His doctors informed him he would need a valve replacement within four years. The stent procedure was a success, and not surprisingly Faris recovered quickly — he was scuba diving three months later. “One of the nurses had told me you are crazy to go to Honduras [to go scuba diving]. Then next she told me, ‘You didn’t tell me you were going with half the doctors from Renown.’ ”
Fast forward a few years. Faris was due for his valve replacement and was preparing to leave for Europe. Five days before his trip, doctors discovered he had an aortic aneurism — a weakened area of the aorta where the walls are thin, stretched and bulging. Aortic aneurisms are a rather common complication of BAVD. “The doctor told me that he couldn’t keep me from going, but he said there was a chance I wouldn’t wake up on the plane.”
Roughly 30 percent of people diagnosed with BAVD have a complication of some kind, which is why individuals with this disease need the ongoing care of a specialist. According to Faris, they found the aneurism by chance. “I had such big lungs from exercising for so many years that it was difficult to see.”
Faris did not travel to Europe. Instead he underwent his valve replacement on Nov. 25, 2013. And after overcoming complications from the surgery, he began the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at Renown.
He still has difficulty at times dealing with his new lifestyle and physical limitations, especially given his commitment to good health over the years. “You can be perfectly healthy and still have a heart attack,” he points out.
Faris is a model patient and continues his strict health regimen. And when asked about his tricks for maintaining a healthy diet he explains that he did it one brick at a time. “I quit smoking when I was 25. Then I quit salt and animal fat. The last thing that I have done is to try not to eat any processed food or sugar if I can avoid it,” he continues. “I have never gone back to anything I quit, but you cannot quit everything at once.”
He is extremely thankful for the team at Renown and his wife, Anna, who has been by his side, guiding and supporting him through his recovery. “I was scared. But now I have the confidence to get back out and exercise, travel and scuba dive.”