What was supposed to be a basic physical at his doctor’s office led Waynesboro resident Elijah Tabor, 68, to become the first open heart surgery patient at Pinnacle Health’s new West Shore Hospital in Mechanicsburg.
And his wife of 35 years, Merri, ended up being the first patient in the emergency room when she passed out after his surgery.
“It was totally out of the blue while I was having a regular check-up and the doctor said that I had a heart murmur that we need to look into,” said Tabor. Over the coming weeks, Tabor saw three specialists and each time the reports got worse.
Specialists determined that Tabor was born with a heart defect. His aortic valve was smaller than usual and it had become calcified. This was causing his heart to work a lot harder and as a result, the aorta on the other side of his heart was starting expand due to the extra pressure.
“They made it pretty plain to me that with my condition, your first symptom might just be that you die. Imagine hearing that,” said Tabor. He was told that the longer he waited to have the surgery, the worse his condition would become.
“I was under a lot of pressure to take care of this as soon as possible, and I was just thinking, ‘I want to have a happy spring,’” said Tabor, chuckling.
Tabor’s heart surgeon, Dr. Mubashir A. Mumtaz, is based at Harrisburg Hospital, which is owned by PinnacleHealth. Pinnacle was just about to open a brand new hospital that is closer in Mechanicsburg and closer to Waynesboro.
“Providentially that’s when I showed up,” said Tabor. “Dr. Mumtaz was checking me out for heart surgery and said, ‘By the way, we are opening this new hospital, would you like to be the first heart patient?’”
Tabor said he was a little concerned that the new hospital might not be running properly or that something might be missing there.
“I prayed about it, though, and decided this was something I ought to do,” he said.
According to Tabor, the hospital was using his surgery like a target, around which they were motivating the staff to get the hospital up and running.
I was their first heart patient and they needed to get ready in time for my surgery,” said Tabor.
His surgery took place on May 19, the first day that the hospital was officially open for business
“I’ll tell you, it was an incredible experience,” he added. “You know, you can tell that people cared. It wasn’t just a job. They wanted to take really good care of me,” according to Tabor, who said the attitude of the nurses was a comfort to him.
“Of course, I understand that they didn’t want their first patient to croak, so they might have been trying extra hard,” Tabor said, laughing.
Tabor said there was only one minor glitch: “My wife passed out four times,” he said. “She saw them wheel me out of the surgery room and apparently I looked even worse than usual and it just knocked her out.
“Everyone left me with a nurse in the post op room to take care of my wife,” said Tabor. “The fact that the surgeon went along with my wife to make sure she was OK says a lot.”
“My recovery is supposed to take four to six weeks, and I was out in my shop a month to the day of my surgery,” said Tabor, owner of Golden Eagle Cabinet Shop where he restores antiques and makes high end furniture.
He credits his wife for staying with him the entire time at the hospital and helping him through his recovery.
“I’m fixed for now,” said Tabor. “You never know from one day to the next but they basically said I am good to go for 15 years or so.
“The cool thing is that before the surgery, if I was lying in bed on a pillow at night, I could hear my heart — it sounded like a rusty well pump,” said Tabor. “Now it just sounds like a healthy heart!”