Patient Has 'New Lease on Life' After Checkup Catches Serious Heart Condition
Published: May 8, 2019
John P. Timperley II hadn’t been to the doctor in years.
At 42, he thought was in good enough shape. He hadn’t smoked in five years. He liked to work out and had completed an Olympic-distance triathlon in 2011.
Now the insurance agent was buying a house and thinking about the future. He decided to take the advice he gives his clients about planning wisely. He scheduled a physical with Dr. Shane Stephenson, who specializes in family medicine.
John walked into Methodist Physicians Clinic HealthWest on March 4 expecting to get a checkup and a little peace of mind.
He walked out with news that would change his life.
Routine checkup puts wheels in motion
“I thought I was fine,” John said. “In hindsight, I realize some of the symptoms I was having, but I didn’t know it then: I had gained some weight. I was more tired than I should be. There were times of shortness of breath. But I was just attributing that to being over 40. This is just what it’s like when you’re 40, you know?”
John was convinced he felt fine, but his heart told a different story.
As Dr. Stephenson listened with a stethoscope, he heard a significant murmur. He referred John for an echocardiogram about a week later. John was scheduled to meet with a cardiologist, Dr. Admassu Hailu, the morning after that test to discuss the results, but the technician took John to see the doctor immediately.
“That’s kind of when I was like, ‘Oh crap.’ It started to get real at that moment,” John said.
“Blindsided with the news”
Dr. Hailu told John that his mitral valve, which is critical to keeping blood moving properly through the heart, was damaged. It wasn’t closing properly, letting blood leak backward through the heart. Open-heart surgery to repair or replace the valve was inevitable.
“I was just blindsided with the news,” John said. “I’m the perfect example of someone who didn’t think it would happen to them.”
Doctors told John that his condition was likely caused by a genetic abnormality. He was relieved it wasn’t self-inflicted. Still, inaction would lead to more significant symptoms or even death, perhaps within a year.
John took a few days to process the news. Denial gave way to acceptance as he learned more about his diagnosis.
“To not have control over my future was a little scary,” John said. “My job is to help people, and now I need help. I’m not used to needing help.”
In the hands of strangers
John posted a moving update to his Facebook page on March 29 – the day before his 43rd birthday.
“Today is the day I hope to sign a new lease on life,” he began before chronicling his journey and the surgery he would undergo in a few hours.
“My life is in the hands of a team of complete strangers. … These strangers have remarkable and extraordinary talents. These strangers are more confident and brave than anyone else I know.”
Led by Dr. John Batter, a cardiothoracic surgeon, the surgery to repair the valve and make it function normally was a success.
Four days later, John left Methodist Hospital. He faced at least six weeks of rehabilitation sessions at the Methodist Hospital Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Unit. The 60-minute sessions three times a week would include cardio workouts, monitoring and education. John had plenty of work ahead of him, but he had already made plans for his new start.
Recovery driven by lofty goal
On April 5, John attended his first rehab session. He met with staff nurse Brian Choquette, BSN, RN, who explained the program and performed an initial assessment. At one point, he asked John about what caused him the most stress.
John drew a blank, then said, “I’m so blessed with life right now.”
Choquette and John went on to discuss previous exercise habits and what he could expect in the program. Then John shared a long-term goal: to finish another triathlon within 16 months.
“I got a new lease on life, and I’m going to take advantage of it,” John said to Choquette, echoing his Facebook post.
Future is bright thanks to Methodist team
Dr. Stephenson was impressed when he saw John about a week after surgery.
“He looks fantastic,” Dr. Stephenson said. “I saw him for his follow-up, and his recovery has already been pretty remarkable. He’s very motivated.”
It helped that he was a good surgical candidate and is relatively young and fit. Dr. Stephenson has no doubt John can compete in triathlons again.
John plans to share his story with everyone he can – family, friends and clients. And he’ll remind them that it all began with that routine checkup with Dr. Stephenson.
“I give him credit with possibly saving my life,” John said.
Hearing that, Dr. Stephenson smiled, then bowed his head to collect his thoughts.
“I think John saved his own life by taking control of his health and making the first step – making an appointment,” he said. “The cardiologist, the cardiothoracic surgeon, it’s their miracle hands that did the real work. I was just one small piece of a team that’s going to keep him healthy going forward.”