Retirement Lifestyles: For one captain, heart surgery put him back on the boat

Published on Wed, May 26, 2010
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Some dates really stand out in one’s mind. For Larry Bughi of Anacortes, the date that stands out  is December 23, around 8:30 p.m., two years ago.

“I was out Christmas shopping and I just started feeling worse and worse. I tried to sit through a movie, but I got up and walked out,” said Larry. “I was driving home and I thought, ‘Well maybe it'd be a good idea to stop in at the emergency room.’ Instead of stopping at the hospital I thought, 'I don't wanna bother anybody, I'll just drive home instead.’ By the time I got home, I felt so much worse that I turned around and drove to the hospital that night.”
At the hospital, Larry was immediately admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. Larry soon learned that what he thought was a bout of the flu or cold was actually an aneurysm above his heart.

An aneurysm is an abnormal widening, or ballooning, in an artery due to weakness in the wall of the blood vessel. If an aneurysm ruptures, the risk of death is high.

Larry is an active person. He participated in amateur road racing for about 10 years, and he garnered a number of victories, including a national championship.

But his real passion is sailing. He teaches sailing professionally and loves to share the local islands with people from around the world.

However, Larry comes from a family where heart disease is no stranger. His father passed away when he was 50, and every immediate and extended family member has battled with heart disease.

“A couple of years ago, if someone would have asked me if I was ill I would have said, 'No.' But the truth was, I just didn't feel right. And it came on very, very slowly. I could never put my finger on it. I really had no symptoms, except that lingering feeling that something wasn’t right. I was sleeping less at night and had some very intermittent, very diffused symptoms, like increasing back pain,” said Larry.

For two years, Larry dismissed the subtle symptoms he was experiencing. He assumed they were a result of stress, business pressures and a busy life.

After his diagnosis, Larry conducted extensive research to find  the most expert and experienced doctor to perform his surgery.

“I thought I located that doctor in Seattle. I made an appointment, sent my charts down and got my affairs in order, expecting to go down to Seattle and perhaps be wheeled into surgery that day,” said Larry. “Instead, just the opposite happened. I walked in and the doctor didn't know who I was, and hadn't read my chart. The doctor spent 15 minutes with me and said, 'Come back in six months.' It wasn’t the answer I was looking for.”

Then one evening, as Larry was enjoying dinner with some friends, he began to share his frustrating Seattle experience. Larry had a life-threatening problem he felt was all but ignored.

One of his friends mentioned having been a patient at the Cardiovascular Center at Peace Health St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, and recommended Larry look into it.

Larry made the call and was seen that very same day. He met his surgeon three days later, and he was scheduled for surgery three weeks after that.

“It was easy and quick. People were concerned. I felt like I was treated like royalty at probably one of the worst times of my life. It was really quite comforting. Going to PeaceHealth St. Joseph was a breath of fresh air for me at a time when I desperately needed it.”

The Cardiovascular Center at PeaceHealth St. Joseph has attracted highly specialized cardiologists and heart surgeons who collaborate with the center’s staff.

The center offers some of the latest technologies in interventional cardiology and heart surgery, as well as educational support through a cardiac rehabilitation program.

“The next thing I know I am in recovery and the surgery is done. I felt like my old self for probably the first time in two years, and it was just a wonderful feeling,” said Larry. “Honestly, I would have much preferred to stay another week. I was treated so well and I felt so secure there. I just knew that I would receive expert care, that my needs were being looked after and that no matter what happened, I was going to be okay. It was really a tough place to leave; I felt like I was leaving friends and family.”

Larry was discharged from PeaceHealth St. Joseph four days after his surgery. Over the course of the next six weeks, he gradually increased his activity level. By eight weeks, he was back on his boat, providing sailing lessons once again.

PeaceHealth St. Joseph offers a Take Heart Screening that focuses on all of the measurements critical to heart health. The screening examines a patient’s resting blood pressure and heart rate, total LDL and HDL cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and includes a screen for diabetes. The Take Heart Screening also includes a private consultation with a health educator.

St. Joseph hospital can be reached by calling call 360/788-7718. To learn more about cardiovascular health or to schedule an appointment call 800/541-7209 or visit