Gilbert Starost sets a brisk pace. At 60, he’s a martial-arts enthusiast who’s resumed aikido. He also was able to get in a camping trip with some of his five grandchildren over the summer.
Until recently, his physical activity has been concentrated at Capri Heart and Lung Institute, where he puts his new mitral valve through a heart-strengthening routine of stair-step machine and treadmill. After his workouts, he receives dialysis treatment for failing kidneys.
It’s a repetitive slog, but Gil can only be grateful.
“I didn’t know whether I was going to make it this far,” he says with the direct gaze of a man who’s had to face hard facts. “Like somebody told me, it’s better than the alternative.”
His heart-valve replacement on Oct. 15, 2009, marked an important milestone for him—and for Harrison Medical Center. The surgery, led by cardiothoracic surgeon Chris King, MD, was Harrison’s 1,000th open-heart procedure.
Initially, Gil had the choice of an artificial valve or a pig valve, but his sensitivity to medications forced the decision to go with a tissue heart. As Gil tells the story, there’s a bit of wonder in his voice.
“I’m old enough to remember the first heart surgery,” he said. “I’m surprised at how far they’ve come in my lifetime.”
Gil’s serious health challenges began with a sudden spike in blood pressure about 10 years ago. Doctors traced the problem to hardening of the arteries of the kidneys, for reasons probably related to heart disease and heart failure.
“Looking back on it,” Gil said, “I should have probably had the surgery earlier. I just took the kidneys as far as I could take them.”
Events took a dramatic turn when the Poulsbo man experienced a heart emergency far from home. He was on a work assignment in Florida but returned to rejoin his wife, Mary, and consult the hometown medical specialists he knew and trusted.
Fortunately, his employer, the Veterans Administration, allows Gil to perform his information technology duties from home.
His office is just a few steps from the kitchen, where he has posted two thorough lists of dietary information, one each for heart and kidneys. Trouble is, what’s good for one may be bad for the other, he says, so his lifestyle requires a balancing act.
Early in 2009, a breathing problem sent Gil in for an angiogram, a diagnostic test that uses a dye injection to outline blood vessels on an X-ray. In Gil’s case, the angiogram meant an end to normal kidney function, but it also revealed crucial details of his heart-valve defect.
Gil said there never was any question of going anywhere but Harrison to have his heart repaired, where he’d had three other procedures. He found the care to be kind, thorough, and humane. And when he needs therapy or other care, Harrison is close by.
“We’re known there,” he said.
Next on the agenda: a one to three-year wait for new kidneys.