Open Heart Surgery at 27 Years Old: A Renown Patient’s Story

open heart surgery

As the owner of a martial arts school in Oklahoma, 27-year-old Alex Evers seemed as fit and healthy as they come. However, Alex’s unexpected open heart surgery earlier this year shows that sometimes even healthy young people can experience heart problems that require emergency care.

Below, we share the story of Alex Evers, an Oklahoma resident and blogger who recently received care at Renown. The following is an excerpt taken from Alex Evers’ blog, Living Simply.

This past summer, I was excited because our family had a planned vacation to California to visit our relatives at a family reunion. I initially assumed I wouldn’t be healthy enough to go, but the mysterious leg pain I was experiencing was going away, and I was starting to feel normal again.

The week before we leave, I start getting cold chills. It’s 100 degrees outside, but I’m freezing. This happens two or three times in the week leading up to our trip. It lasts for an hour or so before the chills go away. I call my primary care physician, just to be safe, and he says to call the rheumatologist. I call the rheumatologist, but he’s out of the country. In my mind it’s really no big deal compared to the unexplained back and leg pain I’ve been experiencing. I figure I’ll just keep taking my medicine, and it’ll eventually go away. 

Vacation Begins

The first day of vacation was great, but from day two onwards, I continue getting these weird chills, and I start to notice my resting pulse will jump up for 10 minutes or so, then dissipate back to my regular resting heart rate. I decide to rest for most of the vacation because I’m generally not feeling good.

Once we arrive in Mammoth Lakes for the family reunion, we have to climb three flights of stairs to get to our room. My heart is beating like crazy after the stairs, but I assume if I relax, eventually my body will too. Around two hours later spent sitting on the couch, I check my pulse. It’s 130-140. I speak with my aunt who is a registered nurse, and she convinces me to go to the ER at Mammoth Hospital. It’s Thursday evening.

My memory begins to get foggy at this point. The ER dotor, after looking at my test results, explains that they aren’t sure exactly what is happening, but the blood tests have indicated there is something severely wrong with my heart — so severe that they can’t treat it. He explains that they have already contacted the airport to get me flown to Reno. I recall the ambulance ride to the airport, being put into the plane, and even landing on the tarmac in Reno, but before I can get out of the plane, it all goes black. 

Emergency Open Heart Surgery

I wake up in a hospital bed surrounded by my family. They explain to me that it’s Monday afternoon and that I’ve just undergone emergency open heart surgery. I look down at my body and notice all of the wires and tubes. They hold back the details at this point in time because they don’t want to worry me, and for the same reason, I don’t ask.

Here is what happened, as it has been told me. Once I got to Renown Health, I received a flurry of tests. It was determined that an infection was growing in my heart, which is called endocarditis. The infection had eaten through my aortic valve and had also eaten a hole in the wall of my heart.

Standard procedure in an endocarditis situation is to treat the infection, then have surgery to fix the damage. The infectious disease doctor started me on antibiotics, but my fever continued to rise. They put my body onto an ice blanket and covered me with one as well. However, after hours, my fever hit 105.4.  Later its explained to me that brain damage usually occurs at 105.6. The team of doctors decided they had to do the surgery now.

Right before they were going to take me off bypass, they notice that I have a birth defect in my heart. A normal aortic valve has three leaflets, and I only have two. To fix this, they will implant a carbon fiber aortic valve to keep the pressure in my heart while it pumps. It isn’t until five or six days later that I notice the audible ticking each time my heart beats.

While waiting for me to become conscious again, everyone is nervous that I may have brain damage or my personality will be completely different when I wake up. Because we were only three hours away from where our family reunion was meeting, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents came by to see me.

Life in Recovery

After I finally regained my awareness, we began physical therapy. My nurses explained I needed to walk as much as possible. Getting up the first time was very difficult, and after taking just a few steps, I was exhausted — but it was progress. The next day I made it to the door. The day after that I made it through the door into the Cardiac ICU. I was excited at the quick progress I was making.  

Walking is difficult because of the four chest tubes coming out of me along with the catheter, heart monitor, etc. As the days continue, they start removing these things. By day 12 in the ICU, doctors removed almost everything besides the line delivering antibiotics to my heart for the next four weeks at home. The doctors decide flying is the safest way for me to get home to Oklahoma to avoid blood clots.

During the discharge paperwork, the doctors let me know that I’ll return to normal life within a year, but that I’ll be on blood thinners the rest of my life. Because of this, they urge me to no longer participate in any contact sports, like sparring/grappling/takedowns, which I’m still coming to grips with; however, it’s still much better than the alternative.

Renown Institute for Heart & Vascular Health

Renown Health’s Institute for Heart & Vascular Health is the region’s leader in heart care. Here, you can learn more about:

  • Renown’s Cardiac Care Team
  • Getting a Diagnosis
  • Treatment and Recovery
  • Prevention and Wellness

Learn More