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Run Down No More – Meet Phil Hengren

Phil Hengren

A former ultra-marathon runner, 66-year-old Phil Hengen was no stranger to breathing heavily. But for more than a decade,frustration mounted as he could no longer keep up with his peers. “My running buddies were slowing down as they aged, but they could still run well,” he said. “I couldn’t.” Stress tests indicated no problems with his heart, and the occasional periods of arrhythmia Phil noticed never occurred during visits to his doctor, nor were they interfering with his daily activities.

An examination in 2007, however, revealed a prolapsed mitral valve – causing regurgitation of oxygenated blood. His cardiologist believed the condition was not progressive and advised him that it didn’t warrant further treatment. Late one Friday in June 2010, a period of arrhythmia coincided with Phil’s second annual Medicare physical. Dr. Allison Ochsner, his primary care physician, referred him to a cardiologist, and Phil scheduled an appointment for the following week.

But on Sunday night, Phil experienced shortness of breath and a sleepless night that left both him and his wife Ruth with the feeling that there was more to the situation this time. And they were right. The couple immediately drove to Clear Lake Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Room. Upon arrival, Phil’s condition was quickly assessed, and he was admitted to the hospital’s Chest Pain Unit. Tests on Monday revealed severe prolapse of his mitral valve. A respiratory crisis early Tuesday morning then sent him to the Coronary Care Unit, where an echocardiogram indicated complete failure of the valve due to a ruptured chordae tendineae.

“It’s very fortunate he was in the Chest Pain Center when the rupture occurred,” said Dr. Gerard Abreo, Phil’s cardiologist. “Without immediate action, he likely would have died in only a few minutes.” “Under the skilled hands of my surgeon, Dr. Cesar Nahas, and the outstanding OR team at the hospital, my chest was opened and life-saving repairs were made to the failed valve,” Phil said. During the same operation, a Maze procedure was performed to stop the arrhythmia. Within two weeks of his surgery, Phil was walking 45 minutes every day, at a 15-minute-per-mile pace. The avid runner “felt like a kid with a brand-new toy,” he said. “It was such a blessing to be so close to our home in Friendswood while getting the highest quality care,” said Ruth. Phil added, “It is phenomenal to know that we have this level of medical care – right here so close to us. Had it not been for the superior medical attention I received, and the surgery, I probably would not have survived.”