A New Hometown and a New Lease on Life

Cheryl Bailey was busy planning her upcoming move from Illinois to Tampa and counting down the days to sunshine and beaches after spending years of frigid winters. Even though her days were hectic she still found time to focus on her health because of a family history of heart disease. At 62, Cheryl was active – she played tennis, pickleball and loved to swim, but the knowledge that her dad needed bypass surgery in his early 60’s made her extra vigilant about her health. 

At her physical in July of 2023, her nurse practitioner suggested getting a heart score given that Cheryl was being treated for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Though on medication for both conditions, her cholesterol wasn’t responding as well as expected so Cheryl agreed to the test.

The results confirmed she was likely following in her father’s medical footsteps.

“I never had a single symptom. Never short of breath. Never felt any pain. I kept active and was a stickler about my checkups and preventative care,” she explained. “So to be told I also had significant blockages was pretty shocking.”

Her cardiologist in Illinois advised Cheryl that the structure of her veins didn’t allow for a less invasive procedure, such as a stent. Because they were very narrow and twisted the only option was open heart surgery.

Cheryl went into overdrive to find the best care possible.

“Since I was moving to the Tampa area in the next couple of months, I decided to do some research into cardiothoracic surgeons there.  Again and again St. Joseph’s Hospitals was at the top of the list.”

Cheryl discovered that the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) – the leading organization dedicated to ensuring the best possible outcomes for surgeries of the heart, lung, and esophagus, as well as other surgical procedures within the chest – has a comprehensive rating system that allows for comparisons regarding the quality of cardiac surgery among hospitals across the country. St. Joe’s programs have been awarded the highest quality 3-star rating more than once, a designation only approximately 10% of hospitals achieve.

She was impressed but wanted a more personal endorsement. Coincidentally, a childhood friend happened to be on the board of the St. Joseph’s Hospitals Foundation and confirmed everything Cheryl had found in her research.  St. Joseph’s was the place for her to be.

Things moved quickly after that, and Cheryl’s open-heart surgery was scheduled. But first, she needed to undergo a whole series of pre-op testing to ensure she was healthy enough to withstand such a major surgery.

“My surgeon, Dr. Andrew Sherman, was very thorough and through the pre-op we found out I had an almost completely blocked carotid artery and it needed to be taken care of first through a shorter surgical procedure. It was all so overwhelming, and I was terrified.”

But in the weeks leading up to her surgeries, Cheryl’s natural concern and anxiety lessened as she began dealing with all the different team members involved in her care.  From answering her dozens and dozens of questions to explaining every detail of each procedure in easy-to-understand terms, to reassuring her that all would be okay simply because of the confidence everyone displayed, each step of the way Cheryl found that the expert care and warm compassion she received put her mind completely at ease, sharing, “There aren’t enough superlatives to describe how I was treated.”

On October 2nd, only three months after receiving the news that changed her world and only five days after her carotid artery procedure, Cheryl had her life-saving open heart surgery.

“Things couldn’t have gone more smoothly. From day one everything was amazing. Before and after each of my surgeries, I always felt like I was in the best of hands, and I continue to feel that way during my recovery and rehab. Dr. Sherman and everyone involved in my care at St. Joe’s took one of the scariest times in my life and actually made it a positive experience.”

Cheryl continues to make wonderful progress with the support of her St. Joe’s team and looks forward to getting back to tennis and pickleball this spring, enjoying the sunshine of her new hometown and her new lease on life.