September 29th is World Heart Day. In view of this, we sat down with PHC’s now retired Director of Human Resources Rick Moyneur, who reflected on his experience with open heart surgery, the long road to recovery, and the challenge of returning to work post-op.
Rick Moyneur was walking up a hill in the cemetery near his house when he passed out. When he came to, he had no idea how long he’d been unconscious. He wasn’t in any pain. His dog was still with him. But he was disoriented. Eventually, he pulled himself off the pavement and walked home.
Many medical appointments later, Rick discovered he was born with a heart valve that was not working properly. It was causing complications and he was told he needed surgery.
“Life was a bit difficult waiting for surgery and dealing with the anxiousness about all of that, even though I wasn’t in really any danger,” Rick said, noting that, faulty valve aside, his heart was in pretty good shape thanks to his exercise regimen.
Surgery and rehabilitation
On May 3, 2017, after months of waiting, Rick underwent open heart surgery at St. Paul’s Hospital where doctors replaced his aortic valve, aortic root and performed a single bypass. He spent 16 days recovering in hospital, returning once after discharge due to ongoing issues.
“The stay in the hospital was a new experience for me and not a very pleasant one because I wasn’t recovering the best,” Rick said.
Fluid had built up in his lungs and he recalls quite vividly the pain involved with removing the liquid.
“That was an intervention probably I’ll never forget,” he said, “But boy, you can breathe a lot easier when it’s done.”
Despite the rocky start to recovery, Rick was buoyed by the wonderful care he received on 5B. And while being in hospital isn’t how he would have chosen to spend his birthday, he was touched to see the words “Happy Birthday Richard!” written on the menu accompanying his meal tray. “I thought that was a pretty neat thing to do.”
Going home was accompanied by feelings of nervousness and anxiety. Routine activities like sleeping, eating and getting dressed were no longer normal.
“When I got home, walking around the block took me 20 minutes or longer – and it’s just a short block,” he said, explaining he did that walk three times a day to build up his strength.
From August to December, Rick attended St. Paul’s Hospital’s Healthy Heart Program, a cardiac rehabilitation and prevention program aimed at patients who have had a recent heart attack or bypass surgery or who are at risk of having a heart attack. There, he worked with a cardiologist, exercise specialist, nurse and dietitian and had access to equipment that monitored his heart while exercising. He went to his twice-weekly appointments diligently and exercised at home on his off days. Rick credits the Healthy Heart Program for restoring his confidence in his body and its ability. He also received the tools he needed to make some lasting changes to his diet and exercise routine.
“The people that work within the Healthy Heart Program just cannot do enough for you and are always there to help you.”
Returning to work and taking life one day at a time
In September 2017, four months post-operation, Rick did one of most difficult things he’s ever had to do. He went back to work.
“It was one of the most unknown situations that I think I’ve been involved in,” he said.
Re-establishing himself in the workplace, dealing with the stigma around being sick, and balancing the pressures of professional life with his medical appointments was a challenge, to say the least. Fortunately, Rick felt supported by PHC on his return and he is grateful for the benefits he was able to access while on leave.
“Returning to work after illness is a very hard and courageous thing to do for all of us that have been through illness in the workplace,” he said. “Take care of yourself and take care of your benefits, because these things are here for you when you need them.”
Rick wasn’t able to hit the ski slopes this season, but he walks four kilometres every morning and continues to do the exercises he learned in the Healthy Heart Program. He’s still getting used to the different sensation he feels in his chest, but he’s learning to trust that he’s OK. Throughout this whole experience, Rick says he has learned to take life one day at a time and to listen to his body and let it guide what he should be doing.
When he got his strength back, Rick and his dog returned to the hill in the cemetery where he fainted all those months ago and walked to the top without any problems.
“It was quite a celebration for me,” he said.