Patient Stories: Stephen Tocher
Quintuple bypass at 39
The sudden burning sensation in Stephen Tocher’s lungs took him by surprise.
It was like the sting you feel in your chest while out for a run on a cold day, not while sitting on the couch watching TV.
At 39 years old, Stephen was worried. But he never thought the symptom would indicate a massive heart problem.
Paramedics and emergency room staff didn’t think so either, but an attentive doctor at Grand River Hospital ordered some tests – just in case. While an ECG looked normal, bloodwork showed Stephen had had a heart attack.
He was transferred to St. Mary’s for an angiogram, a procedure that revealed a handful of blockages in his arteries. Within days, he was being prepped for quintuple bypass surgery.
“It was like: ‘OK, I’m not even 40 and I need a serious heart operation. This sucks,’” Stephen says. “I don’t smoke, I barely drink, I go to the gym, no one could really believe it.”
Stephen’s doctor chalked up his condition to genetics, although he couldn’t recall an immediate family member who had ever had a heart attack.
“It must be down the line somewhere,” he says.
Hearing the result of the angiogram was tough, Stephen says, but a helpful nurse in his recovery room calmed his fears by explaining how surgery would fix the problem.
“Then I talked to one of the surgeons and I said: ‘OK, let’s get this done,’” Stephen says.
“I know a lot of healthcare workers are overworked but I’ll never complain about the healthcare system again. Staff at St. Mary’s were fantastic. The care was phenomenal.”
Stephen finished his three-month-long cardiac rehab program in June, calling it a slow – but worthwhile – process.
He had lost a lot of strength and stamina, but the rehab team worked with him week by week, adding strength little by little.
More than six months after his bypass surgery, Stephen is recovering well. Though he’s had to make some changes in his diet – limiting his red meat intake and giving up alcohol entirely – he is essentially back to his pre-heart attack lifestyle.
And he’s grateful to St. Mary’s for that.
“I look at it as a blessing: I got it taken care of now while I’m young and my body can bounce back, as opposed to when I’m older,” Stephen says.
“For a horrible situation, it was a great experience. I’m here today because of St. Mary’s.”
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