Perseverance through Congenital Heart Disease

Ron Bathurst

Transposition of the great vessels.

It’s a big phrase for a child to grasp, but as a child Ron Bathurst learned to accept the frequent doctor visits brought about by his rare birth defect. From the age of 5, Bathurst, now 48, made regular trips from his home in Allen, Kansas, to The University of Kansas Health System, where Marvin Dunn, MD, monitored his health.

A complicated situation like Bathurst’s takes an entire heart team to provide the best care.

“With this condition, parts of the heart loop the wrong way during development,” explains cardiologist Kevin Mulhern, MD, who specializes in the treatment of adults with congenital heart defects.

“In Ron’s heart, the right atrium connects to the left ventricle, the left atrium connects to the right ventricle, and the great vessels – the aorta and pulmonary artery – connect to the wrong ventricles,” he says. Dr. Mulhern notes that these reversed connections make the heart work harder, leading to other complications and often to heart failure.

For Bathurst, one of those complications led to surgery. In 1992, William Reed, MD, replaced a leaking valve in his heart. Bathurst then continued his regular check-ups with cardiologists Randall Genton, MD, and Steven Owens, MD, often at the heart team’s Emporia office, not far from his eastern Kansas home.

During that time, Bathurst and his wife, Janet, learned to appreciate the extraordinary job his heart was performing.

I can't perform much strenuous work, but I can work every day. – Ron Bathurst

“We were so impressed with how Dr. Owens sat down and explained a lot of things that we didn’t understand. He used models to show us how my heart compares to a normal heart,” says Bathurst.

In 2002, Loren Berenbom, MD, joined Bathurst’s heart team. He implanted a pacemaker to treat complete heart block of the electrical signal and prevent dangerously slow rhythms. Two months later, Dr. Mulhern performed a cardioversion for atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm.

“Patients with congenital heart conditions like Ron’s have many special issues, including employability and insurability,” observes Dr. Mulhern.

It hasn’t stopped Bathurst from leading an active and busy life, though. "I can’t perform much strenuous work, but I can work every day," he says. His low-key statement of a fact most people take for granted speaks volumes.

In addition to working as a maintenance foreman for the Kansas Turnpike Authority, Bathurst hauls hay for neighbors and remains active in farming and caring for livestock on the family farm. The land that his great- grandfather homesteaded has been in Bathurst’s family since 1862.

And it’s a homesteader’s combination of perseverance and acceptance that Bathurst brings to his own medical challenges, working with the unusual twist of great vessels that life brought his way, enjoying new experiences that he can one day share with his own children’s children.

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