New Lease on Life: Heart Patient’s Journey to Recovery

Open Heart Surgery Patient
From left, Tobyn Talbot, Ryan Talbot, Steve Talbot and Jill Derby at a recent family gathering. The four of them pulled together remarkably when Steve needed urgent heart surgery on Christmas Eve.

Steve Talbot and his wife, Jill Derby, counted many blessings for his care and recovery.

Open Heart Surgery Patient
From left, Tobyn Talbot, Ryan Talbot, Steve Talbot and Jill Derby at a recent family gathering. The four of them pulled together remarkably when Steve needed urgent heart surgery on Christmas Eve.

It was an unusual holiday for the family of Steve Talbot and Jill Derby. Last Christmas Eve, Steve was wheeled into heart surgery at Renown Regional Medical Center as Jill and their children waited for the results. On Christmas Day, the family open presents and enjoyed their traditional holiday treats in Steve’s hospital room, under the supportive eyes of the nurses and caregivers at Renown.

Jill says that her family “experienced life-saving miracles over this holiday.” Not only is that not an exaggeration, it also doesn’t even scratch the surface of the many elements that fell into place to change Steve’s life for the better.

Expecting the Worst but Receiving the Best 

It all began on Dec. 20 when Steve, a well-known veterinarian in Minden, experienced chest pains during his daily walk with his dogs.

“I couldn’t go 15 feet without having to stop, and my heart was really pounding,” he recalls. “I wondered if something was really going haywire. The next morning, I still had trouble breathing.”

Steve went with Jill, who is a former UNR Regent and is now an educational governance consultant, to an ER in the area. There, Steve was diagnosed with CHF, or congestive heart failure. The heart murmur that was diagnosed earlier in his life had led to a tear in one of his heart valves.

It was time for quick action. The next day Steve and Jill spoke with Dr. John Williamson, thinking he would not be available so close to Christmas. He had just left for a week’s vacation, but Dr. Williamson returned to see Steve and recommend care.

Jill says that Dr. Williamson recommended the best surgeon for a value replacement, Dr. Athan Roumanas. She also called this Miracle No. 2 – Dr. Roumanas happened to be on call for Christmas Week and was available.

Miracle No. 3 was the staffing for the surgery, and Dr. Roumanas’ usual team, including an anesthesiologist who specialized in this type of surgery and was also on-call for the holiday week, were all available during the holiday week.

An Extraordinary Celebration

The surgery was originally supposed to take place on Dec. 26, but as it happens there was availability on Christmas Eve. That was Jill and Steve’s fourth instance of what she says was “the universe lining up for us.”

And, the good news continued: the three-hour surgery went smoothly and was a value repair instead of replacement, which has saved Steve from having to take more medication, including blood thinners.

On Christmas Day, Jill, Steve and their children, Ryan and Tobyn, celebrated not only Steve’s successful surgery but also the holiday itself. And they went all out.  Tobyn, who is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist in California and a former Renown employee, stayed with Steve.  Jill and Ryan, who is a math professor and interim provost of Quest University in British Columbia, went back to the family home to prep the presents and some Christmas food – including pumpkin pie – and bring them back the next day to Steve’s hospital room.

“The day before I went to the gift store at Renown and bought some Christmas decorations,” Jill says, bringing a chuckle from Steve. “So we had it looking like Christmas when we came back. We really wanted to have it feel like home.”

While it wasn’t the Christmas celebration they predicted, it definitely was a time from giving thanks for what they had.

Life after Surgery

Once back home, Jill and Steve were so moved by their caregivers they wrote a letter to Renown. In February, both were still praising the work of physicians and the staff at the hospital.

“We were in a situation where lives are on the line,” Steve says. “But the entire time I was there, you realized that all of these people really care about you, and about getting you fixed. There was so many times during this where we said, ‘I can’t believe the care we’re getting here.’”

And the result of that care is a new lease on life for Steve. He was on oxygen while he recovered in the weeks after surgery, but as of February he is doing amazingly well. He walks three-to-five miles a day, can now drive and is set to begin cardiac rehabilitation soon.

“I think I’m doing great,” Steve adds. “The big thing now is the parameters, knowing how fast my heart rate can go and how we can push it the right way.”

And then Steve and Jill showed the his-and-her activity trackers on each of their wrists. Clearly it’s maintenance for life for the both of them, but things are looking up and there’s hope for the future.

“I feel like we were in tough situation, but everything that could have possibly made it better actually happened,” Steve says.