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Dr. Wes Oczkowski smiles for a photo
July 16, 2019

When a doctor becomes a patient

Dr. Wes Oczkowski’s life was in danger, and he didn’t even know it. An intense pain developed in his chest one morning in February 2019 when he was clearing the snow from his car.

“The pain went away, so I didn’t give it much thought,” says Dr. Oczkowski. “Then the pain came back twice that morning and I started to realize the potential severity of my condition.”

Dr. Oczkowski went to the emergency department at Hamilton General Hospital (HGH). The staff was surprised to see him there as a patient, given that he is the division head of neurology at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS).

Danger zone

An electrocardiogram revealed that the electrical activity in his heart was abnormal. The pain he was experiencing was caused by a lack of blood flow to the heart muscles, and he was at risk of suffering a massive heart attack.

“They discovered that the main blood vessels in my heart had blockages,” explains Dr. Oczkowski. “In a way, this was surprising because I had always led an active lifestyle full of regular exercise and a good diet. In another way, it wasn’t surprising because there was a history of heart disease in my family.”

Precision operation

Dr. Oczkowski required urgent bypass surgery. Dr. Victor Chu performed a complex open-heart procedure to bypass the blockages and allow for regular blood flow. Veins were taken from Dr. Oczkowski’s leg and an artery from his chest, which were grafted into his heart to complete the six required bypasses.

“It was a major surgical procedure that required many hours, and I was fortunate to be in the hands of such a capable surgical team.”

“I’m feeling better than ever now.”

After the surgery, Dr. Oczkowski spent two days in the intensive care unit, followed by another three days recovering on the cardiac surgical unit.

“Being a patient at HGH was a unique situation because I’d taught some of the people who were caring for me,” recalls Dr. Oczkowski. “Everyone did a marvelous job and everything went like clockwork. I couldn’t have asked for better care.”

Back to saving lives

His recovery progressed well and he returned home five days after the surgery. At first, Dr. Oczkowski was barely able to get up from his bed. As he regained strength and energy, Dr. Oczkowski was taking extended walks around the neighbourhood.

He was back to work two months later.

“I’m feeling better than ever now,” says Dr. Oczkowski. “I’m back at the gym and able to work out harder than before. Thanks to the amazing care I received at HGH, I was able to resume the work I love doing – caring for patients and teaching the next generation of care professionals. I’m grateful to have been given a second chance at life.”