LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - More than 500,000 people in the U.S. undergo heart surgery every year.
The majority of patients are over the age of 55. 26-year-old Andrew Barnhardt is physically fit. He's been an Onalaska Firefighter for the last four years and on his days off he works construction. But for the last couple of years he's had stomach aches and chest pains.
He says it felt like a heart attack but doctors would check and it never was. After many ER visits and an appointment with a Gastroenterologist, Andrew was referred to a Cardiologist, who found an issue with his heart.
It's called a right coronary anomaly, where the opening in Andrew's right coronary artery is too small and decreases blood flow to his heart.
Dr. De Oliveira, Associate Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the UW School of Medicine, performed Andrew's heart surgery. He says it's a relatively rare case, and usually he sees this issue in children or teens.
If it's not caught as a child, some people can live their whole lives without noticing the problem and the only way to fix it is with open heart surgery.
Andrew is four weeks out of surgery. He's in cardiac rehab three times a week at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse.
The recovery process won't be easy, and the surgery itself may not cure his stomach aches and chest pains, but so far, he's pain free.
During his recovery, Andrew needed someone by his side 24/7. He wasn't able to move his upper body or lift anything over six pounds, so his fellow firefighters helped take care of him.
From driving him to appointments, to bringing over dinner, they didn't hesitate to help out.
Onalaska Firefighter Jeremy Southworth says "a guy like Andy really is a second part of our family, so when someone, whether it's Andrew or someone else on the Fire Department, needs help it's not tough to find people willing to step up and lend a hand."
Andrew starts light duty at the Fire Department Monday.
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