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A ‘Series of Miracles’ Brings Veteran to Saint Joseph Hospital


For more than 90 years, Roger McCombs’ life has been filled with a series of miracles.

At least, that’s how he sees it. McCombs, a World War II veteran who turned 93 in October, says his latest miracle came when he opted to come to Lexington from Huntsville, Ala., in search of a surgeon who could fix his failing heart valve. The search led him to Nezar Falluji, MD, MPH, CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Cardiology.

When the Heart Team at Saint Joseph Hospital evaluated McCombs, they found his stenotic valve was narrower and was leaking.

“Mr. McCombs had multiple hospitalizations for heart failure,” Dr. Falluji said. “He had been short of breath and had declined over a period of six months.”

For his part, “I felt like I was at the end of my life,” McCombs said.

Miracles in Work

McCombs has led an event-filled life and one, he says, filled with miracles.

He was unable to join the U.S. Navy until he took the Eddy Test, which gave him the opportunity to join the Navy three pay grades ahead of the normal seaman recruit.

After another year, he attained petty officer third class rating.

Serving in the Navy granted him access to the GI Bill, which allowed for him to attend the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy at Rolla, Missouri. Because of the high number of people graduating, his first job of any consequence was at a non-engineering job. He produced components for the nuclear plant. He later worked on the first Navy nuclear air force carrier, Enterprise, which was in service for 54 years.

After the ship was built, he had to find another job. He found one – working for the space program on the space shuttle.

“It was all because the government passed the GI bill that enabled me to get that college degree,” McCombs said.

Miracles in Life

His family life has been full – he has three daughters, three sons, 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. But his health declined with age and McCombs had surgery in 2002 to have a mitral heart valve replaced. When that failed, he knew he needed something done but didn’t like the options his Alabama doctors were offering.

That led to his search for a new heart care team. His daughter, Mary Richards, lives in Lexington and found Dr. Falluji.

The Heart Team at Saint Joseph Hospital was the first in the state to perform the mitral valve repair procedure with the Mitraclip system as part of the seminal COAPT trial back in 2013.

Over the years, the team – Dr. Nezar Falluji, Dr. Michael Schaeffer and Dr. Hamid Zadeh – has gained vast experience in two minimally invasive heart procedures, MitraClip therapy and transcatheter aortic-valve replacement (TAVR).

The solution was to insert an aortic bioprosthetic valve into the mitral valve. While the procedure has been done elsewhere, the team at Saint Joseph Hospital had not performed it before. Dr. Falluji said the team’s experience with TAVR, MitraClip and mitral valvuloplasty were all essential in performing this procedure.

“We used an aortic bioprosthetic Tavr valve (Edwards S3) and placed it in a previously surgically placed, now malfunctioning, mitral bioprosthetic valve,” Dr. Falluji said.

The procedure was completed May 9; McCombs was discharged two days later. The team of doctors, including an anesthesiologist, cardiologist and heart surgeon, had set aside a full day for the procedure. It lasted two hours.

“The new one was a miracle,” McCombs said of the new valve. Since the surgery, McCombs has had a good recovery. He’s in cardiac rehab and doing well. Also, his daughter says, “he’s thinking more clearly. He’s moving around better.”

For more information, visit CHI Saint Joseph Health Heart and Vascular Care or find a cardiologist anytime online through our Provider Directory.

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