Published on February 01, 2021

Palos Hills Runner Getting Back on Track After Aortic Valve Replacement at Silver Cross Hospital

Spero Speropoulos knew something wasn’t right.

A veteran of several marathons, Speropoulos, 70, an Orland Park Realtor, said he was getting out of breath after running just for a few minutes.

“Doctors thought I was crazy because I could still walk 10 miles, but I knew something was wrong. I started getting tired really easily. I thought maybe I was just getting old.” 

There was no pain, but he developed sleep apnea. He visited his doctor, who sent him to a pulmonologist. Initially, they thought he might have Pulmonary Hypertension, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as abnormally high pressure in the blood vessels leading from the heart to the lungs.

After further testing showed that wasn’t the case, Dr. Mark McKeigue referred Speropoulos to Dr. Joseph Stella, D.O., who specializes in interventional cardiology.

Dr. Stella confirmed Speropoulos had a heart murmur and found some calcium build-up to his aortic valve.

“But Dr. Stella suggested we watch it for a while. After an echocardiogram late last year, Dr. Stella said it was time. So, we scheduled it for December.”

“Aortic valve replacement is a serious surgery,” Dr. Stella said, so they wait and watch until the calcium build-up in the artery gets too severe. “When it’s time, we get them to a cardiac surgeon.”

Tests last fall showed it was time, and Dr. Patroklos (Pat) Pappas, to whom Speropoulos was referred by Dr. Stella, agreed:

“Those tests showed he had severe aortic valve stenosis, in which calcification builds up on the valve and starts to restrict blood flow to the body. In his case, it was very narrowed, and there was a dangerous restriction in blood flow.”

During the surgery for the aortic valve replacement, the open heart team stopped his heart, the aorta was opened and the diseased valve was taken out. Dr Pappas then sutured in a new tissue valve. The new valve is made of tissue from cows’ and pigs’ heart tissues.

This type of valve sometimes requires blood thinners only for a short time and is expected to last for 20 to 30 years with no anticipated complications or restrictions to his daily life.

Speropoulos said Dr. Pappas eased his concerns while explaining the procedure and what he could expect.

“He was great, just very cool and calm. He has a great bedside manner.”

Speropoulos went in for surgery on December 8, and was out December 14, the last two days spent balancing the blood-thinners.

“They told me a nurse spent the entire night in my room. And if I moved too much, alarms went off. They were wonderful.”

Speropoulos said COVID-19 procedures were followed to a T, and he never was worried about it. His wife Lauretta got to see him for a few minutes after surgery, he said, then, they and others talked regularly by phone when he was able.

Dr. Pappas said aortic valve stenosis can result from a variety of factors, including a congenital defect and a history of rheumatic fever. In Speropoulos’s case, it was most likely due to his age and inflammatory symptoms, including arthritis and inflammatory bowel syndrome.

“He has been convalescing extraordinarily well and continues to gain his stamina,” Dr. Pappas said. “We are very happy with his continued progress.”

Working mostly from home anyway, Speropoulos said he’s back on the job. And with Dr. Stella’s OK, he has been walking regularly and even jogging a few steps while walking around his residential complex.

“Dr. Stella said I need to build up my endurance again. Otherwise, recovery is going real good.”

Speropoulos said all of this came out of the blue. He never had any heart issues, and neither did his parents. He suggested people not ignore the signs and call their doctors immediately if there are any changes to their performance.

During Heart Health Month in February, Silver Cross is offering $49 heart scans, which identify levels of calcium deposits. For more information, call 815-300-7226, or visit www.silvercross.org/heart.

“I’m glad I went to Silver Cross,” Speropoulos said. “My experience couldn’t have been better.”

Physicians on Silver Cross Hospital’s Medical Staff have expertise in their areas of practice to meet the needs of patients seeking their care. These physicians are independent practitioners on the Medical Staff and are not the agents or employees of Silver Cross Hospital. They treat patients based upon their independent medical judgment and they bill patients separately for their services.