Health Aware: Mother and son undergo heart surgery within a week

Dr. David Skarin and his mother, Muriel Skarin had open heart surgery at Edward Heart Hospital within five days of each other in December 2013 to treat severe aortic stenosis.  |  Submitted
Dr. David Skarin and his mother, Muriel Skarin had open heart surgery at Edward Heart Hospital within five days of each other in December 2013 to treat severe aortic stenosis. | Submitted
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There are a lot of things moms and their sons look forward to sharing over the years, but going through open heart surgery within five days of each other is not on the list.

That’s what happened to 61-year-old Dr. David Skarin, an orthodontist with offices in Naperville and Yorkville, and his 86-year-old mother, Muriel Skarin, of Naperville.

Both mother and son had been diagnosed several years ago with mild aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the aortic valve. As the condition progresses, the heart must work harder to pump blood to the rest of the body, increasing the chance of heart failure. Symptoms of stenosis can include fatigue and fainting on exertion.

Dr. Skarin’s physician told him they’d need to watch this potentially dangerous problem, but he didn’t schedule any follow-up visits.

“I did keep an eye on my blood pressure, and I made sure my diet was healthy and I stayed active,” he says. “I like to run and play golf and basketball, but running was becoming more difficult.”

There was another factor beyond his control: a congenital problem called bicuspid aortic valve — he had only two leaflets in his valve, instead of the usual three. This abnormality is one of the causes of aortic stenosis.

In October, Dr. Skarin had some alarming symptoms.

“I woke up feeling like there was a weight on my chest,” he says. “And my blood pressure was sky-high.”

He went to the ER, where cardiac tests ruled out a heart attack. While the cause of the symptoms wasn’t clear, the testing did reveal that his aortic stenosis had become severe. The doctor who treated him suggested he see Dr. Bryan Foy to discuss possible surgery. Foy is medical director of cardiac surgery at Edward Heart Hospital and a cardiothoracic surgeon with Cardiac Surgery Associates.

Skarin began seeing Dr. William Stephan, of Midwest Heart-Advocate Medical Group, as his primary cardiologist.

“It’s good his condition was diagnosed,” Stephan says. “Once symptoms occur, the prognosis is poor if left untreated.”

Surgery was scheduled Dec. 12 with Foy at Edward Heart Hospital.

Mom’s story

The night of Skarin’s ER visit, Muriel had a second fainting episode. An echocardiogram and blood work confirmed she also had severe stenosis. Unlike her son’s stenosis, Muriel’s was because of the more common age-related cause: a build-up of calcification. She consulted Stephan and Foy, and Dr. Peter Kerwin, an interventional cardiologist with Midwest Heart-Advocate Medical Group. Surgery was scheduled with Foy for Dec. 17, just five days after her son’s procedure.

According to Foy, both mother and son were good candidates for surgical aortic valve replacement, which involves opening the chest and, typically, putting the heart on bypass. The surgeon then removes the diseased valve and replaces it with an artificial one. Foy says it’s the preferred treatment for aortic stenosis, except for patients considered too high risk for such invasive surgery.

Both Muriel and Skarin came through their surgeries well, and are on track with their recovery schedules. Muriel was in the hospital for 11 days; Skarin, just four.

“I’m back to doing everything I want to do, except running,” Skarin says. “I’ll have to be at seven or eight weeks (post-op) for that.”

Muriel is looking forward to returning to her active winter in Arizona, where she still drives and volunteers as a dog-walker for a shelter. In the meantime, she says, “I’m not ready to go back to line dancing, but I can do chores, like dusting, that don’t involve bending or lifting anything over 5 pounds.”

“My story confirms that we need to see our physicians regularly, whether we have a known problem that needs follow-up or not,” Skarin says.

Adds Muriel, “It’s amazing what can be done medically now.”

Health Aware is a weekly column submitted by Edward Hospital.