Discovering the Importance of American Heart Month with Lee Spurlock

Lee pictured right before surgery at MCB with Katie Hopper, Sandy Phillips, and Missy Thomas

It’s American Heart Month, which is a time for health organizations such as Medical Center Barbour to come together and share helpful information about staying heart healthy and to amplify the voices of people who live with heart conditions every day. With heart disease being the number one killer of Americans and half of the entire population of adults in the country with a heart condition, American Heart Month is the perfect time to come together and get heart healthy. A great place to start becoming heart healthy is to listen to the people around you who wake up every day with a heart condition. Their stories can help us all become a little more heart healthy in our daily lives and help guide us as we take the first steps in our own heart healthy journeys.

In honor of American Heart Month, Medical Center Barbour sat down with Lee Spurlock, who is a long-term employee of Medical Center Barbour and lives daily with a heart condition, to bring you his story and share with you the wisdom he has gained over his years of managing his heart condition so that you, too, can implement his daily heart-healthy habits. Lee starts by explaining his condition and how it led to his eventual open-heart surgery.

“I was born with a congenital birth defect, but I discovered that I had a valve problem at 15 years old after experiencing chest pains when I was playing sports. They said that the chest pains really didn’t have a correlation with the valve problem, but the good Lord must have been looking out for me, because that’s what prompted me to get it all checked out. I went and got a chest X-Ray, and they didn’t find anything; I went to the ER a couple of times and kept digging further, and finally they did an echocardiogram and found it. They said I’d be about 30 years old when I’d have to have surgery to correct it. I was 37 going on 38 when I actually got the surgery. We didn’t know about the aneurysm until a couple of years ago, though. The doctors believe that my valve not sealing and the pressure from the regurgitation was actually what caused the aneurysm. Of course, blood pressure and heart rate play a big factor in it, and so we’ve just been monitoring that for the last few years. This last year has really been a doozy- I could tell my symptoms were getting worse, even though I was hiding it at work. I was feeling short of breath and very fatigued, but even with my heart condition I was working three jobs. Really, Brooke, my now fiancé, was the one who noticed that my condition was worsening when she saw that I couldn’t catch my breath and was huffing and puffing when I was playing soccer with my nephew in the yard one weekend. She scheduled the appointment for me to see my cardiologist, and he told me we needed to do something pretty much immediately.” Lee shares what it felt like going into the surgery. “It was pretty intense. I usually handle stress pretty well- my mom has had a lot of health issues, also- but it’s always different when you’re the actual patient. I went from one extreme to the other: from never being a patient to suddenly being on the other side. Reality set in when the surgeon said, “Alright, let’s set a date.” That’s when it got real. What helped me really follow through with the surgery was when the surgeon laid it out on the table for me and told me that each year I waited, I had an 8% chance of my aorta dissecting, which is a big deal because you can die on the spot if that happens. I asked him what my chance was of dying on the operating table versus waiting, and he told me I had a lot higher chance of success with the surgery. He was so confident, really, that he told me I had a 95% survival rate, even though it is a risky surgery. I will say, if I could recommend anything to other people going through this, I would tell them not t