40-year-old vet gets life and service back with heart repair

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Jason Willhite has always been healthy, except for this past summer when he had some chest pain and found himself out of breath after climbing some stairs. It turns out this engineer for Eli Lilly, Air National Guardsman and father of two had two potentially fatal heart conditions.  He had both an aneurysm on his aorta and his aortic valve was leaking. He was referred to Dr. Marc Gerdisch, the chief of cardiovascular and thorasic surgery at Franciscan Health. Dr.  Gerdisch had to make both repairs and quickly. Jason was  admitted to the hospital at the end of October.  Images tell his story his leaky heart valve was putting pressure on his lungs and he was filling up with fluid.

Dr.  Gerdisch recommended a new heart valve to Jason. It's called the heart 300.  It essentially helps support the  flaps that open and close to allow blood in and out. Four days after surgery, Jason's heart was pumping so efficiently, he lost 16 pounds of fluid and looked like his normal self.

"This device really is intended to reshape and reform the architecture around the leaflets," says Dr. Gerdisch. "So the leaflets move into a more normal position and then function well again."

While Dr. Gerdisch repaired the valve, he also fixed the aneurysm.  By the time he was finished, Jason Willhite was on his way to better health...And back to the Air National Guard.

"This is a big deal for me," says Jason. "To be able to stay in for longer."

"It does give us the opportunity for people who are police officers, firemen, military to allow them to go back to full activity," says Dr. Gerdisch.

Jason doesn't need blood thinners or any other special medicine. His valve, the heart 300, is working perfectly and should last a lifetime.

"Basically we put Jason back on a normal life curve," says Dr. Gerdisch.


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