Cedars-Sinai Blog

A Fresh Start After Open-Heart Surgery

Sitting in his living room with his dogs Lola and Zooey, Jeff Baird can think of only one word to describe how he feels after his a quadruple coronary artery bypass surgery: "Lucky," he says. "I'm just really, really lucky." Photo by Ted Catanzaro.

Last summer, Jeff Baird's wife, Barbara Collins, convinced him to find a new primary care doctor near their home in Playa Del Rey. It ended up saving Jeff's life.

Mysterious chest pain

Barbara had good reason to be concerned. For the past 4 years, Jeff, 68, had been having sporadic bouts of chest pain, particularly when walking uphill or carrying jugs of water up the long stairway to their 3-level beach house, where they've lived for three years.

"It wasn't a strong pain, but it would get my attention," Jeff says. "I would just sit down for a couple of minutes until it subsided."

"I think what hit me for the first time was that sense of not being immortal."

He researched doctors online and chose Dr. Cara Stalzer, who works out of Cedars-Sinai's Playa Vista location.

At Jeff's first appointment, Dr. Stalzer thought his symptoms sounded serious and sent him for a "stress test" with Dr. Keith Yabumoto, a Cedars-Sinai cardiologist.

When that was positive, Dr. Yabumoto performed an angiogram—a catheter procedure that shows if heart vessels are clogged.

The news wasn't good. One of Jeff's coronary arteries was 90% blocked and the others were significantly clogged. He urgently needed open-heart surgery—a quadruple coronary artery bypass.

Read: Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest, Heart Failure—What’s the Difference?

"I think what hit me for the first time was that sense of not being immortal," Jeff says.

In December 2017, Jeff underwent open-heart surgery at the Smidt Heart Institute. Just one week later, he was home.

Healthy changes

Since the surgery, Jeff has been regaining his strength. He walks their two dogs, Lola and Zooey—an excitable pair of Chihuahua/Italian greyhound sisters—along Ballona Creek and looks forward to dusting off his beach cruiser and resuming his regular rides along the coast.

Jeff Baird at Ballona Creek with his dogs Lola and Zooey. Photo by Ted Catanzaro.

Jeff has lost 35 pounds since that first appointment with Dr. Stalzer, mostly by drastically cutting down on sugar, white bread, and unhealthy fats. The lifestyle changes have also helped other aspects of his health—he is no longer prediabetic.

"He's really shown that healthy lifestyle changes can go a long way, and he's lowered his risk of further heart disease," says Dr. Stalzer.

Read: 10 Symptoms Men Shouldn't Ignore

Standing at his living room windows, looking out at the view and his life ahead of him—as Lola and Zooey exchange happy, high-pitched yaps and circle excitedly around his feet—Jeff can think of only one word to describe how he feels.

"Lucky," he says. "I'm just really, really lucky."