Early in the spring of 2009 the buzz and excitement of the grand opening of Oklahoma’s largest dedicated heart hospital filled the halls of the newly constructed Oklahoma Heart Institute. The wall of windows on the south side of the building brought in new light to the Hillcrest campus and new hope for patients in Oklahoma seeking the best cardiac care in our region.
March 12, 2009 opening celebrations were underway, when 41 year old Robert Atchley was scheduled for surgery. “As they were doing the ribbon cutting, Dr. Kempe was cutting me open for a mitral valve replacement,” remembers Atchley of what he expected to be a routine surgery. “I wasn’t scared at all.”
Atchley knew he would be one of the first patients to undergo a procedure in the new heart hospital, yet before his surgery, he already had developed a close connection with Oklahoma Heart Institute. Atchley was originally introduced to Dr. Paul Kempe and Dr. Alan Kaneshige through his wife’s best friend, Jodi Caplin Swearingin, Dr. Kempe’s nurse.
For Atchley, it was important Swearingin was present during his surgery. “She was with me all the way,” he shares. “She got to see my heart.”
The surgery went well. However, as Atchley recovered, unknowingly a blood clot was developing on the backside of his heart. Five days after his surgery, Atchley’s wife heard the call for code blue to her husband’s room as she was visiting with her friend Jodi, Dr. Kempe’s nurse, in a waiting area.
Dr. Kempe safely removed the blood clot. “It was in God’s hands, that’s all I can say,” Atchley says of understanding now how fragile his life was at that point.
Eventually Atchley was able to get off the ventilator and was ready to get stronger. Walking the halls at Oklahoma Heart Institute became Atchley’s daily routine as he continued to gain strength and rehabilitate from his surgery and weeks in ICU. “I had a staff of my very own; a cardiology team, lung team and nurses,” he recalls of the coordinated effort to treat Atchley. “They genuinely cared.”
Atchley had suffered from mitral valve regurgitation, or a leaky mitral valve. If untreated, Atchley would require a heart transplant. Today, he hears the clicking of his mechanical valve, a reminder of when his heart and his life were saved at Oklahoma Heart Institute. “I think about it every day when I hear my heart,” says Atchley. “I hear my heart and I’m thankful every day.”
More than three years from his surgery and the opening of the Oklahoma Heart Institute hospital, Atchley enjoys life, eats well (outside of an occasional Mountain Dew) and tries to live life to the fullest. Atchley shares his story to give thanks and gratitude to the doctors, nurses and staff at Oklahoma Heart Institute, as well as encourage others in a similar journey.
If you have your own Oklahoma Heart Institute story and would like to share that with us, please email email@example.com with the subject: Share Your Story.