Don Spears

Captain Don Spears, a Belton police officer, and his wife scheduled an unusual activity on a mutual day off last December.

“Melinda and I went in together for cardio scans,” says Don. “She was having some effects from anxiety and I knew I needed a scan based on my family history of heart disease.”

What the couple discovered that day was one of the best Christmas gifts Don remembers receiving. It was a gift, in fact, that probably saved his life. Though Melinda’s scan came back normal, Don’s showed abnormal plaque and a major arterial blockage. Don’s general practitioner immediately referred him to Research Medical Center for a stress test, the results of which were cause for concern, too.

Don’s cardiologist, Bangalore V. Deepak, MD, with Midwest Heart Associates — part of Midwest Physicians — recommended surgery. “Dr. Deepak couldn’t stent where my blockage was,” says Don, whose father had two open-heart surgeries and died of heart disease at age 56.

A rehabilitated smoker, the 55-year-old career law enforcement professional met with Frederic L. Seligson, MD, FACS, a surgeon with Midwest Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, part of Midwest Physicians. Don underwent surgery in early February 2011.

“I was at Research Medical Center for a week following the surgery,” says Don. “Dr. Seligson prescribed cardiac rehabilitation three times a week, in addition to regular exercise.”

Don redefined his mindset during his stay at Research Medical Center. Staff nutritionists worked to reeducate him on what foods contribute to a heart healthy diet, a valuable lesson that Don applied to his everyday meals following his discharge.

Don and Melinda now walk nearly two miles every night, and their diet has shifted from less saturated fats, trans fats and sodium to healthier, less processed foods. “I eat oatmeal for breakfast, and lots more fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Don, who has learned that his diet choices allowed him to make a positive lifestyle transformation. “I now understand the importance of portion control. Instead of consuming two large plates of spaghetti, I eat a third of what I used to.”

As a result of Don’s December scare, he is a passionate advocate for physical and heart health. His two children, ages 20 and 25, get regular lectures from their dad on the necessity of exercise and a sensible diet, and he sets a good example for his colleagues. “Several of my friends watched what happened to me and visited their doctors for cardio scans and stress tests,” says Don. “My situation wasn’t just a wake-up call for me and Melinda, it caught the attention of other people in my life.”

The physicians, nurses and support staff at Research Medical Center—part of HCA Midwest Health System, Kansas City’s largest healthcare network—reinforce the Spears’ perception. “We heard the care here is top-notch,” says Don. “Everyone—even the young man who worked with me in the cath lab—was straightforward, knowledgeable and confident. Their attitudes really helped me and Melinda through a frightening time.”

Don admits he’s a bottom-line type of guy when he goes to the doctor. “I appreciate the answers I got to my questions,” he says. “I feel that if treatment like this would have been available when my Dad was diagnosed with heart disease, he might still be around.”

Don considers the gift of his increased awareness of heart and physical fitness.

“It’s priceless,” he says. “You can’t put a value on your life, or those that you love. I’m grateful I had excellent medical attention at just the right time.”