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Doc Talk: One veteran's choice kept him close to family while going through heart surgery

Vietnam veteran Gary Hutchison, now 75, regularly golfs as part of his active lifestyle. (WWMT/Courtesy of Gary Hutchison)

Gary Hutchison is a Vietnam War Veteran.

“I was stationed down in Qui Nhon half the time and then we moved up to Da Nang after that," Hutchinson said.

In 1967 and 1968, he was a newspaper reporter and driver. He was in Vietnam for the first Tet Offensive.

Now 75 years old, Hutchison said he’s always been active but heart problems over the years, most recently a stiff valve, threatened to slow him down. For help, he chose to stick with the hospital he’s familiar with, and the doctors he trusts.

“I knew these doctors and this group of doctors,” Hutchison said.

Under a program called Veterans Choice, Hutchison could still access his Veterans Administration health care benefits while using local doctors and facilities, instead of traveling to a VA hospital in another town.

“He trusts our system and we do a really good job with the newer surgeries, too,” said Dr. Vishal Gupta, a cardiologist and the vice chairman at Borgess Heart Institute. “Gary was the perfect example where, you know, he’s a veteran, he can stay in town, get the surgery done and go back home to his loved ones within a few days.”

At Borgess, doctors were able to use a technique that could replace Hutchison’s stiff valve without having to do a major operation. The TAVR or transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedure is less invasive and doesn’t require as much down time, meaning this husband, golfer and car enthusiast had the freedom to get back to his hobbies a lot sooner.

“I felt good as new, really as soon as it was over,” Hutchison said. “I was happy to have it. As far as I know, I’m all 100 percent now and I can basically do whatever I want to do.”

Two years post-procedure, Hutchison said he would choose Borgess to serve his heart all over again -- because of the quality of care and patient-physician relationship -- though he hopes it won't be necessary.

“It’s almost fun, … if you can say that about having heart problems," he said.

Borgess and other Ascension hospitals, clinics and doctors nationwide accept Veterans Choice. Depending on enrollment and circumstances, the Veterans Choice Program allows veterans to get health care within their community without impacting existing veterans health care or other VA benefits.

Find out if you qualify or to learn more about the Veterans Choice Program visit Ascension's web page on the program, or the Veterans Administration website.

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