Carving Out a New Future After Heart Surgery

By Meredith Whittemore

Woodworking is in Vinny Barone’s blood. Both his father and grandfather were carpenters, and from an early age, he learned how to transform a tree stump into a beautiful piece of art.

“I started working with my father at 6 years old and over time my hobby has evolved into something artistic,” Barone said. “I’ve created everything from cedar chests to clocks. For me, woodworking is about the joy of creation. I’ll start with one plan in mind, but as I work through the process of putting a piece together, I may take artistic license with it.”

But recently, Barone developed a condition that threatened to put an end to his lifelong passion and curtail a family legacy that has stretched generations. His cardiologist, Arjiv Agarwal, MD, discovered Barone had aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the aortic valve that, if left untreated, can lead to sudden death.

“Aortic stenosis is something that can occur with advanced age; however, Vinny had a bicuspid aortic valve, a common congenital defect where the aortic valve only has two leaflets instead of three. This predisposed him to develop calcifications to his aortic valve,” explained Tom C. Nguyen, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann.

Dr. Agarwal referred Barone to Dr. Nguyen who told him he was a candidate for minimally invasive aortic valve replacement.

“For many patients, the only option is for a surgeon to enter the heart by dividing the breastbone. Here at Memorial Hermann, we’re able to perform minimally invasive valve surgery and replace valves with small incisions. This gives patients like Vinny a better chance for a speedy recovery and helps diminish the risk of complications,” said Dr. Nguyen, who is also associate program director for the cardiothoracic surgery training program at  McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

Barone said he knew that he would eventually need surgery on his heart, so he was grateful and relieved to discover that he had a minimally invasive option available.   

“I was mentally prepared to have open heart surgery, so when Dr. Nguyen said he could perform the surgery in a minimally invasive way, it made me feel a lot better. Everyone I interacted with was confident that I was going to have a positive outcome and that made a big difference,” Barone said.

Barone underwent surgery to replace his aortic valve in June 2018.

“I knew about his passion for woodworking and I knew he had to put some of that aside as his heart condition worsened. I wanted to get him back to doing what he loves sooner rather than later,” Dr. Nguyen said.

Barone says he’s feeling better than ever and is happy to return to his passion.

“Prior to surgery I was exercising twice a week, now I’m working out three times a week and I’ve got much more strength and stamina. I had to put some bigger projects aside, but now I’m able to return to them. I’m so thankful for Dr. Nguyen and his team. I couldn’t have been treated any better,” Barone said.

As the field of minimally invasive surgery continues to grow and expand, Dr. Nguyen said he’s optimistic that more patients like Barone will benefit from the latest techniques and technology.

“I’m most interested in making sure we return people to the best quality of life possible and that often means taking the least invasive route available. Patients experiencing valve issues, like Vinny, should speak with a physician about whether or not they’re a candidate for a minimally invasive procedure,” Dr. Nguyen said.

Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute has a team of world-renowned affiliated cardiovascular surgeons offering minimally invasive procedures to treat a wide variety of heart conditions. Learn more about the conditions treated by these multidisciplinary cardiovascular teams or schedule an appointment with a cardiologist near you.

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