Mills-Peninsula Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Advanced Cardiovascular Surgery Keeps Farmer in his Field

Posted on May 4, 2012 in Heart Health

The relentless, physical work required to be a successful farmer is not for the faint of heart – an expression that could never be used to describe Roberto Rodriguez.

Despite suffering from heart disease since he was a young boy and undergoing two heart valve surgeries, he has spent his life in the fields. For the last 10 years Rodriguez has owned and run a thriving strawberry farm in Watsonville with his brother Manuel.

Although his life and career are firmly anchored in his success at a job he loves, his serious heart condition – damaged aortic and mitral valves – was always a cloud hanging over him and his family.

Previous valve repair surgery in Mexico, where Rodriguez grew up, was just a temporary fix. As his health started to deteriorate again, Rodriguez saw Neil Sawhney, M.D., interventional cardiologist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, who evaluated him and told him that he urgently needed surgery. He recommended cardiothoracic surgeon Conrad Vial, M.D., for the procedure.

From the very first time Rodriguez met Dr. Vial, he knew he was in the best hands.

“My wife, Alba, came with me to my first appointment. She was really worried about what would happen to me. She speaks very little English and was afraid she wouldn’t understand what was going on,” says Rodriguez.

“As soon as Dr. Vial realized there was a language barrier, he switched to fluent Spanish and explained everything to her calmly and clearly. My wife almost cried with relief. He just knew how to make us feel comfortable and at ease. I immediately knew what kind of man he was – a good one!”

Rodriguez was still young at 38, so Dr. Vial recommended replacing Rodriguez’s deteriorating aortic valve with a mechanical one, to ensure the safest, most reliable and best outcome for his health. On June 16, 2011, Rodriguez successfully underwent aortic valve surgery at Mills-Peninsula Medical Center. The state-of-the-art operating suites at the new hospital integrate the latest surgical technologies, providing an optimal environment for specialists like Dr. Vial to perform such life-saving procedures.

“When I came round after my surgery, I expected to feel worse – but quickly realized I actually felt good,” says Rodriguez. “Dr. Vial was very caring and came to see me every day during my hospital stay to make sure everything was going well.”

Rodriguez spent five days in the hospital and on the fifth day was able to walk for more than an hour. He was back at work on his farm after a three-month recovery period.

“Now my health is better than ever,” says Rodriguez. “My friends and family say my skin color looks so much better. I can walk everywhere, run a mile and attend to my work on the farm. I feel really good. This surgery is the greatest thing that could ever have happened to me. I will always be grateful to Dr. Vial.”