When Channon Doerr was 8, a school nurse discovered he had a congenital heart defect. He didn’t let that slow him down. He went from being an athletic kid to working with neighborhood kids on an old farm in his hometown of Wisconsin. In junior high he taught himself how play the piano.
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Ticking Time Bomb
For 40 years, his heart condition stayed steady while he had a family and built a successful career working with youth and the mentally challenged and making music and films.
“I grew up knowing that one day I would need to have heart surgery,” says Doerr. “I knew that I had to stay thin, eat well and not exert myself for extended periods. But it didn’t stop me from having a lot of fun and keeping up with my peers.”
It wasn’t until he was having a routine heart physical at age 48 that he learned that his aorta could burst at any time. After four decades, his aorta had grown and his heart gradient (the measurement of blood pressure across the aortic valve ) at peak went from 26 or 27 to a 33. It was time for surgery.
Choosing the right surgeon
The news came in September 2012, and Doerr began his journey to find the right surgeon and health center to have his aortic valve replaced. After visiting a few heart surgeons in the Midwest, he settled on having the procedure at Cleveland Clinic with heart surgeon Eric Roselli, MD.
“I had waited my whole life for this surgery and I wanted to get it right,” says Doerr. “When I came to Cleveland Clinic, I felt a real connection with Dr. Roselli and that was important to me. I trusted him and the team and that made a world of difference. The care throughout the whole process has been wonderful.”
Composing new music weeks after surgery
The procedure took place in February. Within a few days he was well enough for the drive back home with his family (now in Minnesota). As he was healing, he soon felt well enough to compose a new piece of music for a job.
“You hear people talk about cognitive issues following heart surgery, and I was relieved that within a couple weeks of the surgery I could compose a passionate piece of music and play a complex piece that I had previously written,” Doerr says. “Now, it feels like it never happened. I have no limitations and no symptoms.”
Expectations met by being proactive about health
In July, Doerr came back to Cleveland Clinic for his six-month follow-up visit and the MRI showed a highly functioning prosthetic aortic valve with his heart gradient across the valve in normal range.
“I’m not surprised at all by the wonderful results of Mr. Doerr’s operation. And by we, I mean our cardiovascular team here in Cleveland, along with Mr. Doerr and his family and physicians at home,” says Dr. Roselli. “He set high but real expectations for all of us, including himself. He has been a great patient because he made it a priority to be well-informed about all aspects of what he was dealing with—and he will continue to be proactive about his health going forward.”
Says Doerr, “It felt like I was walking the plank, and I was fortunate to find the right surgeon and the right place to have my heart surgery.”
Listen to some of Mr. Doerr’s compositions