Curt Bridgett of Savannah is always on the go. He’s a mobile equipment supervisor at Memorial Health. He also owns a business called Brain Freeze Treats that sells Italian ice at fairs, festivals, and other events throughout the region. The 61-year-old feared he would lose his business, his livelihood, and his quality of life when he began experiencing heart issues in 2013.
It started with swollen ankles and shortness of breath. After a series of heart tests, Bridgett learned that two of his heart valves were not functioning correctly. They had been damaged by a case of rheumatic fever that he experienced as a child. The heart has four valves that help push blood through its four chambers. Two of Bridgett’s valves had severe leaks, meaning his blood was not flowing properly from one heart chamber to another, or out to the rest of his body.
“It was like I was walking up an incline all the time. I was completely out of breath. Everything I did winded me, and I couldn’t catch my breath. I couldn’t sleep lying down flat. Even a small amount of exertion, like walking down a hallway, would leave me out of breath. I was exhausted all the time,” said Bridgett.
At first, he tried to control the condition with medication. But it got so bad that he had to cancel weekend Brain Freeze Treats trips because he did not have the strength or energy to work. Bridgett was told that he could have surgery to repair the valves, but it would be risky. Both his aortic valve and his mitral valve needed to be replaced. And he also suffered from atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat related to the leaky valves. Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of blood clots, which can cause a stroke.
Bridgett’s cardiologist referred him to Jeremy London, M.D., a cardiovascular surgeon and physician-in-chief of the Heart & Vascular Institute at Memorial University Medical Center (MUMC).
“Curt Bridgett was a very high-risk patient. We had to repair two valves and treat the complex atrial fibrillation,” said London. “Our goal was to get him back to his work and back to a fully functioning life. Memorial had the resources and the expertise to care for him.”
In February 2014, London performed Bridgett’s eight-hour heart surgery. He replaced Bridgett’s aortic and mitral valves, and used a technique called a maze procedure to regulate the atrial fibrillation.
Bridgett spent a week in the cardiovascular intensive care unit at MUMC and then began cardiac rehabilitation. Five weeks later, he returned to work at Memorial. He attributes this quick rebound to the skills of Dr. London, his faith in God, and the prayers from his Bible study group.
The surgery was a success, but Bridgett experienced another setback four months later. He was moving laundry from the washer to the dryer, when he suddenly lost his balance, fell, and could not get up. He managed to crawl into his dining room where his wife, Joy, found him. His speech was slurred and Joy recognized that her husband was having a stroke. She called an ambulance and Bridgett was rushed to MUMC’s emergency room. Thanks to Joy’s quick action, Bridgette received a clot-busting drug that quickly stopped the stroke, and he made a full recovery.
Today, Bridgett is doing well. He has overhauled his diet and lifestyle. He takes a blood-thinning drug and checks his blood’s clotting abilities once a week to help prevent future clots and strokes. Best of all, he has the energy and stamina to work at his Memorial job and his weekend business.
“I credit Dr. London with saving my life. Every time I see him, I hug him,” said Bridgett.