Fayetteville resident Pat Spears has been relatively healthy his entire life, taking care of himself and taking all the necessary precautions to live and stay healthy.
Until 2011, that is.
That’s when Spears’ primary care physician noticed something in his heart she wasn’t comfortable with and started monitoring him.
The constant monitoring continued for four years until Spears’ provider told him it was time to get his heart looked at and she referred him to the FirstHealth Valve Clinic in Reid Heart Center in Pinehurst.
“I was told I had an aortic valve problem and that the valve would need to be replaced,” Spears says. “They said they would need to act as quickly as possible.”
Because Spears’ valve had hardened and was 70 percent blocked, there was no time to waste. When he was admitted to the hospital two weeks later, he didn’t come alone. Cheryl, his wife of 31 years, joined him for his stay.
“There wasn’t any way I was going to leave at any time that he would be in the hospital,” she says. “We live about an hour away. The bottom line is that I was not going to leave him as long as he was hospitalized.”
Because they lived in Fayetteville, a Reid Heart Center nurse suggested that Cheryl Spears stay at the Clara McLean House while Pat was in the hospital.
The Foundation of FirstHealth opened the Clara McLean House in 2012. The hospitality house provides more than overnight accommodations. It also provides a safe environment for lodging, meals and support services for patients and their families. Generous support from our community fully sustains the Clara McLean House through The Foundation of FirstHealth.
“We came to Clara’s House the night before one of his pre-op procedures and then returned again the night before surgery,” Spears says. “Not only was it convenient, but when we walked in the doors, we were home. We weren’t treated like patients; we were treated like family, which helped relieve both of our worries prior to surgery and during his recovery time while he was still in the hospital. This helped my husband recover a little faster knowing that the Clara’s House staff was watching over me anytime I was there.”
“They are the best team there is,” Spears says. “They complement one another so well.”
The aortic valve is located between the pumping chamber on the left side of the heart and the aorta that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The valve should be closed while the heart is filling with blood and reopen fully to allow blood flow when the heart chamber squeezes to push blood into the aorta.
An aortic valve replacement replaces an aortic valve that doesn’t open or close properly. In Pat Spears’ case, the valve wasn’t opening properly.
Spears’ surgical aortic valve replacement meant his recovery period would be a long process.
“Unfortunately, my recovery lasted on the longer side, which they predicted could happen due to my atrial fibrillation and type of procedure I was having,” Spears says.
Spears was hospitalized for more than a week, which meant Cheryl stayed at Clara’s House during that time. While she was there, the Clara’s House staff went above and beyond to assist her, even arranging for transportation back and forth to Reid Heart Center.
“I got to know everyone in Reid Heart and everyone at Clara’s House,” Cheryl says. “While I was worried about him, I didn’t have to worry about much more, because I was so well taken care of by the nursing staff and the Clara’s House staff and volunteers. They continuously asked me if there was anything they could do for me.”
And all her worries went away when her husband was able to sing to her.
“I have always sung ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to him,” Cheryl says, with tears in her eyes. “I sat beside him when he returned to the intensive care unit after surgery, bent down and started singing “you are my sunshine” to him. Without opening his eyes, he smiled at me and started singing along with me. It was then that I knew my husband would be OK.”
He was – and still is.
“I have to say the care and attention I received is like no other,” he says. “I can’t even put into words how excellent, professional and compassionate everyone at FirstHealth – from Reid Heart to the Clara McLean House – was and still is.”
His wife agrees.
“I love FirstHealth,” she says. “Clara’s House was more than I ever thought it would be. It was more than comforting – it was my home away from home.”
To support the Clara McLean House through The Foundation of FirstHealth, click here.
To learn more about the Reid Heart Center and services provided at FirstHealth, click here.