Back in the Game

Damian Simcox lifting shirt to show small incision

Minimally invasive heart valve surgery = less pain, speedy recovery

When he’s on the job, Damian Simcox is almost always on the go. As director of facilities for University of Iowa Athletics, he ensures that the Hawkeye sports teams have fully functioning stadiums, arenas, ballparks, and practice and training facilities.

It’s a job he loves, but one that requires handling multiple responsibilities and shifting priorities on a daily basis. So when Damian, 44, learned in 2011 that he needed surgery to repair a leaky heart valve, “It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear,” he says. Weeks, or even months, spent recovering from heart surgery was a concern.

News of Damian’s heart condition hadn’t come as a total surprise. Ten years earlier, during a routine checkup at the UI Family Care Center, Damian learned that he had a heart murmur—an extra or unusual sound that can be detected when listening to a heartbeat.

“My little mouse-squeak,” Damian says.

Follow-up tests showed that the murmur was due to mitral valve prolapse, which occurs when the valve between the heart’s left upper chamber (left atrium) and left lower chamber (left ventricle) doesn’t close properly. For many people, it’s a non-threatening condition; for others, including Damian, it can allow blood to leak backward into the left atrium, which may require treatment.

Considering that he was in his 30s and his overall health was good, his UI physician recommended “keeping an eye on it,” Damian says. He returned periodically for follow-up tests, but otherwise, “I didn’t worry too much about it,” he acknowledges.

Things changed in the spring of 2011, following new tests to check the progression of Damian’s prolapse. His UI family physician referred Damian to UI Heart and Vascular Center specialists. Surgery was recommended, and fortunately, Damian was a good candidate for minimally invasive surgery to repair his leaky valve.

Traditional mitral valve repair surgery involves a six- to eight-inch vertical incision along the patient’s sternum to split the breastbone and gain access to the heart. The minimally invasive procedure, by comparison, is exactly that—Damian’s case required a mere two-inch incision on his right side, just under the breast. Special instruments are used through the incision to perform the mitral valve repair.

Damian was home just three days after the surgery. Pain was “not an issue,” he says, noting that after a few days following the procedure he no longer needed prescribed pain medications. Within two weeks he returned to work, albeit with some restrictions on strenuous physical activity.

He also enrolled in an outpatient rehab and exercise program through UI Heart and Vascular Center called CHAMPS (Cardiovascular Health, Assessment, Management, and Prevention Service) that helped him regain full strength. Today, he feels great and the outlook is good—reassuring news for Damian, his wife, Dana, and the couple’s two kids, McKenna, 7, and Brady, 6.

Choosing the minimally invasive approach for his mitral valve repair was a “no-brainer,” Damian says.

“To recover so much more quickly and not be in much pain has been great,” he says, “and to get back to my normal routine so much faster—that’s the biggest plus.”

Learn more about minimally invasive valve surgery or call 319-356-4346.