Double Trouble: Greenville Man undergoes surgeries for heart, back problems

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Richard is thankful to be back to work at a local cemetery, where he is a groundskeeper.

Richard O’Brien, age 70, enjoys staying busy and working outside. But one day in the spring of 2014, while doing yard work, Richard felt overcome by fatigue.

Richard wondered if his heart could be causing the problem. For the last few years, he had been a patient of Henry Chong, M.D., a cardiologist with Reid Health who sees patients at Bethel Cardiology in Greenville. “My heart would get out of rhythm sometimes, and Dr. Chong diagnosed me with cardiac arrhythmia,” Richard said. “He would use the defibrillator to shock my heart into a normal rhythm, and that would take care of the problem for about a year.”

But this time, his symptoms felt different. “My wife said to go see Dr. Chong,” Richard said, “so I went over right away.” Dr. Chong performed an electrocardiogram (EKG), which revealed that Richard’s heart was out of rhythm again. But this time, Dr. Chong thought he needed something more than just the defibrillation.

Dr. Chong recommended Richard see Xinqiang Han, M.D., an electrophysiologist at Reid Heart & Vascular Center. Dr. Han did some additional tests, and recommended a cardiac ablation, a procedure that uses heat to destroy abnormal heart tissue that causes an irregular heartbeat. “Dr. Han was excellent!” Richard exclaimed. “I went home the day after my ablation, and my heart has been in rhythm ever since.”

A year later, Richard would need a strong heart as he faced another serious health challenge. “My back had been bothering me for about three years, and it hurt to bend or twist,” he recalled. Recognizing that he needed to do something about it, Richard met with spine surgeon Gregory Hellwarth, M.D.

“I recommended spinal fusion surgery, which would permanently join the three vertebrae that were causing Richard’s back pain,” said Dr. Hellwarth. “This is major surgery, but it can be very effective. Not every 70-year-old is a good candidate for this procedure, but because Richard was active and motivated to get better, I felt he would do very well.”

The surgery took five hours, and Richard ended up needing a blood transfusion. But just 24 hours later, he was up and about, and he went home the following day. Richard said he was very pleased with his experience at Reid. “They did an excellent job taking care of me,” he said. “And the doctors are really personable. When I met with them, they took their time, and would even chitchat a little. I’m really glad to be getting back to what I enjoy doing.”

Caption: Richard is thankful to be back to work at a local cemetery, where he is a groundskeeper.

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