Rob’s world halted. Now he’s circling the globe.

As a farmer in Christopher, Robert Tiberend’s life was about land, crops and harvesting. Now retired, he’s thrilled to see and learn about other land and culture around the world. In fact, he’s planning his next trip overseas.

But in fall of 2014, Robert’s life would be halted in what began with a heart issue, an aortic valve replacement to be specific. His story is one of perseverance and how the human body can throw you a curve ball. He’s also grateful to local doctors and hospital programs that got him through.

Surprises During the Trip

At 77, Robert wasn’t a stranger to heart issues. Dealing with a heart murmur for years and a previous coronary stent placement made him diligent about regular visits to his physician, Dr. Aaron Workman of SIH Medical Group and beloved cardiologist Dr. Maria Falcone of Prairie Cardiovascular (who recently passed).

As fall approached, Robert developed a lack of energy and a general unwell feeling. Dr. Falcone felt it was time for a routine stress test.

“I went to Herrin Hospital for the stress test and actually had pain during the test,” recalls Robert. “The tech said, ‘Whoa! Wait a minute! I need to stop and go get the doctor.’”

Falcone delivered the news. Robert’s aortic valve would need replacing. “It wasn’t nice news, but I’m the kind of guy that is ready to get it done,” he said.

With a choice of Carbondale, St. Louis, or Springfield, Robert wanted be near home. “I wasn’t interested in going anywhere but Carbondale.”

Dr. John Watson, cardiothoracic surgeon of SIH Medical Group performed the open-heart surgery just after Labor Day. Dr. Watson explained the procedure. “We actually did a common procedure, replacing the valve using tissue from a bovine and we did one coronary bypass.” Said Watson.

The heart operation was successful and Robert immediately felt better. He was well on his way to recovery. With any surgery, the body is weakened and sometimes a hidden pre-existing medical condition may reveal itself. For Robert, it was a bleeding ulcer in his stomach. Four days later, he was silently losing blood when his new heart valve needed it most.

Because every patient is unique, when a complex situation arises, having access to a variety of medical specialists makes all the difference. Doctors, nurses, lab, imaging and more all came together to find the source of the bleeding. Robert was impressed with the responsiveness of the Memorial Hospital team.

“The whole scenario was very anxious time,” said Robert’s wife of the situation. “Of course, you just want to hear that everything will be ok.”

Through it all, Robert found Dr. Watson and PA, Eli Anderson’s compassion remarkable. “They were superb. Dr. Watson was there every morning to check up on me.”

“We provide comprehensive post-operative care,” explains Watson. “The goal is to get the patient home and living independently.”

“The dedication to quality and coordination of care is intense at Memorial Hospital of Carbondale,” said Steve Albright, cardiovascular services director. “That results in lives saved and healthy discharges.” Then combine that with the empathy of physicians and hospital staff; compassion becomes just a natural extension among people caring for whom they consider to be their family and friends.

The Recovery Journey

Thankfully, Robert was out of immediate danger, and the next part of his journey would be recovery. Starting with inpatient rehabilitation and ultimately leading to outpatient cardiac rehab both at Herrin Hospital.

Robert admits his motivation to go to rehab was not strong. “My family pretty much insisted. But, after I got going, I started getting stronger. And there were other guys there I could talk to. That’s what really helped me get back on the road of success.”

As he reflects on the event, his resolve was put to the test. Robert feels fortunate to be here, “they were all so good to me. I wouldn’t go anywhere else.”