Heart Surgery

Walter Roth is a former paramedic and current emergency preparedness coordinator and hospital safety officer at UPMC Lititz. As a result, he knows the classic signs of a heart attack.

These can include chest pain, jaw pain, sweating, or pain down the left arm. But all he ever felt was shortness of breath when walking short distances.

He gave up smoking cigars, but that didn’t help. His family doctor then referred him to Matthew Evans, DO, an interventional cardiologist at UPMC Lititz, who ordered a 12-lead electrocardiogram.

“I knew from the look on his face that it wasn’t good news,” says Walter, 60, of Manheim, Pa. “He kept asking if I felt any chest pain.”

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Blocked Arteries and an Ominous Family History

A cardiac catheterization confirmed Dr. Evans’ initial diagnosis: multiple major blockages in the coronary arteries supplying blood to Walter’s heart. It also showed signs of a previous mild heart attack.

Due to the severity and location of the blockages, Walter wasn’t a candidate for an angioplasty or stent procedure. He needed coronary artery bypass surgery to improve blood flow to his heart.

It was frightening news for Walter, who has a devastating family history of heart disease. Both his father and younger sister died after experiencing multiple heart attacks and heart bypass surgery.

“I was scared,” says Walter. “I made a lot of jokes, but I was very nervous.”

Fixing Walter’s Heart

Walter had grown concerned about the magnitude of this procedure. He relied on the trust of a few close friends and their opinions as to where he should seek care. Given his familiarity with his place of work, their answer didn’t surprise him.

“Everyone I talked to said UPMC is the place to go for open heart surgery,” says Walter. His first appointment in Harrisburg was a consultation with Nathaniel Melton, MD. Dr. Melton is a fellowship-trained cardiothoracic surgeon at UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute.

Walter visited UPMC for a consultation and a few additional tests. Then, Dr. Melton and the cardiology team met to discuss the best treatment approach for his complex heart condition. Although repairing all four blockages was unlikely, they agreed that an open-heart bypass procedure was his best option.

“As soon as I met with Dr. Melton, I felt better. He was honest and calm. I knew I could trust him.” Trust is important to Walter.

His work at UPMC Lititz often places him in scenarios in which trust and executing a plan with a team are essential to everyone’s safety. This is a core value that deeply guides him. It’s also one that continued to put him at ease during this challenging time.

‘I’ll Get You Better’

In June 2023, Walter underwent successful double bypass surgery at UPMC Harrisburg.

The day after his surgery, Walter was up on his feet walking with the help of cardiac rehab nurses who came to his hospital room.

“They worked with me every day,” he says. “They were very reassuring.”

Walter left the hospital a week later. Six weeks after surgery, he began outpatient cardiac rehab where he works at UPMC Lititz, just 15 minutes from home. During his evaluation on the first day of rehab, an exhausted Walter could walk only 50 feet.

“I was so winded and tired,” he says. “But my nurse said, ‘I’ll get you better.’ And she did.”

During his medically supervised rehab program, Walter wore a heart monitor while exercising. This program aims to build a patient’s strength and confidence while also managing risk factors. He initially went twice a week, then three times a week as he became stronger.

Two months later, Walter had built himself up to 30 minutes working out at rehab on the treadmill, exercise bike, and lifting weights. On his days off, he walks a mile around his property and on the roads near his rural home. He also recently bought a stationary bike.

“I can walk from my car to my office without huffing and puffing,” says Walter. “I feel good — better than before I went in for surgery.”

A Grateful Patient

Walter praises the entire UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute team for the excellent care he received.

“Dr. Melton was awesome. He came to see me every day I was in the hospital,” says Walter. “He’s so down-to-earth. He always answered my questions and addressed my concerns.

“Everyone there was great. They were all kind and caring — from the housekeeping staff, x-ray technicians, and cardiac rehab team, to the nurses, and radiologists. I know in my heart UPMC was the place to go for my surgery.”

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.