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Dr. Sean Russell with Roger, Ron and Royce Walker

Three brothers thankful for heart care

April 29, 2021

Roger, Ron and Royce Walker have more in common than the first letter of their names. The brothers from north-central South Dakota, have all undergone open-heart surgery with Dr. Sean Russell, cardiovascular surgeon at Sanford Bismarck Medical Center.

Heart disease runs in their family, and even though the brothers have tried to stay healthy, they each suffered from multiple blockages. They now count Dr. Russell and his team as part of the family.

“Our family doctor told us, ‘If I had to have heart surgery, I would want it to be Dr. Russell,’” Royce said. “We just can’t say enough good things about Dr. Russell.”

Roger, the oldest, was the first to have coronary artery bypass surgery with Dr. Russell 14 years ago. He was 60 at the time, and his family noticed he wasn’t acting his normal jovial self. He couldn’t walk more than 50 feet without being out of breath.

Even though Roger was adamant that nothing was wrong with him, his brothers stepped in and drove Roger an hour and a half to Bismarck.

“I can still remember when Dr. Russell told me I have to have heart surgery,” Roger said. “I was sure glad to have him. He’s just an amazing surgeon. Every time I see Dr. Russell, I thank him for giving me so many more birthdays and time with my grandkids.”

Four years after Roger’s surgery, it was Ron’s turn. His arteries were 99% blocked when he underwent a triple bypass, again with Dr. Russell.

After seeing his two older brothers go through heart surgery, Royce was determined to stay healthy, but no amount of oatmeal or exercise could change his genetics.

In early 2021, Royce had been planning a shoulder replacement when pre-surgery tests revealed he would need a quadruple bypass. Instead of having surgery for his shoulder, Dr. Russell repaired his heart.

Royce had surgery on his daughter’s 35th birthday. The next day, when he woke up in the ICU, he was just a few doors down from where his father suffered a massive heart attack and passed away 29 years earlier.

The realization has stuck with the brothers and drives home how lucky they feel to have received the care they did. Without surgery, the brothers would likely have suffered massive heart attacks, but because their heart conditions were diagnosed quickly, they each recovered without long-term heart damage.

Following their surgeries, each said they feel even more energetic and like they have a new lease on life.

“Life has sure changed following my surgery,” Roger said. “My outlook on life is way better, and I feel more active.”

Roger commented that his surgery and recovery was less painful than having a tooth pulled, and Ron and Royce quickly returned to farming and playing sports.

“I really healed up fast,” Royce said just a couple months after his surgery. “I can already run a homerun.”

Now when anyone in their family or community needs expert heart care, Dr. Russell’s name and Sanford Bismarck come up first.

Help us stay ahead of the curve as we continue to provide lifesaving heart care to more families in our region. Your gift will help make sure expert heart care remains available for everyone who needs it.