Pat Herrity knows more than he wants to about hearts, heart disease and heart surgery. By necessity he’s had to pay attention to how hearts work, learn the names of a heart’s parts and realize what happens when something goes wrong.
But what’s on his mind now is something few of us ever have to ponder: How will he feel when he watches the Tivo’d version of his open-heart surgery once WUSA-TV records it for broadcast?
“Channel 9 has called and they want to film some of the surgery,” he confirms as he drives on his way to yet another pre-operation procedure. “But the idea is it’s not about me, it’s a health education issue.”
UPDATE: Inova has denied WUSA-TV permission to tape Pat Herrity’s heart procedure but, he says, “we will do something with Channel 9 afterward.”
Indeed, Herrity’s heart surgery, scheduled for April 5 at Inova’s Heart and Vascular Institute, is one of the highest-profile surgical procedures in recent memory – well, except for maybe Dick Cheney’s transplant this week at the same hospital. Attention is being paid, no doubt, because Herrity is the Springfield District representative on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. He’s also the son of the late Jack Herrity, the longtime Chairman of the Board who had three heart attacks and, finally, a heart transplant.
Clearly, it runs in the family. Herrity’s younger brother Tim of Richmond underwent a procedure at age 42 similar to the one Pat faces at age 52.
Looking at the Positives
Herrity says his wife Nancy is “taking it well. It really still hasn’t hit me, so I don’t think it’s really entirely hit her. It probably won’t until we get in there.”
Worrying isn’t something Herrity is likely to do. And leave it to Herrity to not only emphasize the positives but to also use his experience for the greater good.
“The positives I hold on to, and Nancy does too,” he says. “I’m young for a heart patient, I’m in good shape, I swim a mile twice a week, I play hockey twice a week, I walk the dog and all that other good stuff.” He’s also been known to lace up the cleats and play the occasional rugby match with his longtime local team.
“I haven’t had a heart attack or have heart damage and I’ve had a ton of people come up to me and tell me they’ve had the same procedure. It’s just incredible the number of people who are walking around out there who have had open heart surgery.”
He hopes he inspires others to get checked out, something that’s already happened thanks to his frank newsletter to his constituents.
“Listen to your body,” he advises. “Get your blood pressure checked because that’s one of the signs of heart issues. If you’ve got the flutters or an irregular heartbeat, don’t ignore them. I had someone in our police department call and say he’d been having flutters and ignored it but after reading my newsletter went in to see his cardiologist.”
Two Simultaneous Procedures
Herrity actually will undergo not one but two procedures, performed by two different surgeons, in one day, an event that, Herrity says, is statistically safe for the patient. And success rates are historically high.
But it’s the recovery process that will wear on Herrity most. Herrity, who generally is in constant motion, says, “I do not do idle time very well.”
Doctors tell him to expect to be “walking around the hospital room the same day, walking the hospital halls the next day, taking the staircase on Day Three and out of hospital in four to six days. They also say it will be four to six weeks to fully recover.
“My brother was younger, but he was pretty well recovered by Week Three,” he says. “I’m hoping it sets me back a couple of weeks, but you have to wait and see how your body handles it.”
All of this is just positively positive, but, come on, there must be dark thoughts that creep occur in advance of open heart surgery.
And indeed, there is one.
“One of my big fears,” Herrity says, “is I’ve got to ride in the back seat of the car for two to three months. I’m the type who gets in the front seat of a taxi cab, and if the driver would let me, I’d drive. I’m not going to do well sitting in the back seat. That’s not me.”
As for those WUSA television cameras in the operating room? “We haven’t decided yet,” Herrity says. “I clearly don’t want my surgeons nervous when they’re operating on me.”