When the diagnosis is surgery, obtaining a second opinion is not only a good idea — it could also be a lifesaving decision. David Winters, 74, discovered this after seeking a second opinion for cardiac surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center. The result: Doctors at Mount Sinai successfully treated him with a procedure that was far less complicated than the surgery that others said he would need.
An acclaimed actor, producer, director and choreographer, Winters is one of the original cast members of both the Broadway and movie versions of West Side Story. He was working in Panama City, Florida, on a new movie when he began experiencing shortness of breath and fatigue. A previous diagnosis with atrial fibrillation — a condition characterized by an irregular beat — prompted him to seek a cardiologist immediately. After an evaluation, cardiac surgeons in Panama City recommended triple bypass cardiac surgery with up to two valve replacements. The surgeons planned to use a median sternotomy approach by making an incision down the breastbone and opening the chest cavity.
“They told me that because of my age no one else would operate on me,” Winters said. “When I said I wanted to seek a second opinion, they discouraged me. It was questionable to me why any doctor would discourage you from getting a second opinion, which gave me all the more reason to seek one.”
Winters sought a second opinion from Dr. Joseph Lamelas, chief of Cardiac Surgery at Mount Sinai. To Winters’ relief, Dr. Lamelas said he would not require the invasive procedure recommended in Panama City. Instead, he was a candidate for a far less complicated minimally invasive procedure that requires a fiveinch incision on the side of the rib cage. With this approach, patients to heal faster, have a shorter hospital stay and experience fewer post-surgery complications. In addition, Mount Sinai has the best cardiac surgery survival rate in Florida,* making Winters’ decision to seek a second opinion even more beneficial.
“I see many patients who were told they needed the traditional sternotomy approach because the surgeon they initially saw may not have been experienced in using a minimally invasive technique in these complex cases,” said Dr. Lamelas, who performs the most valve surgeries in Florida. “Also at issue is that fact that many surgeons are reluctant to perform surgery on high-risk patients, such as the elderly, obese or those with chronic obtrusive pulmonary disorder (COPD). But a minimally invasive approach gives these patients a surgical option with fewer complications overall.”
On January 21,Winters underwent a singular mitral valve replacement and received a pacemaker and left the hospital a mere six days later.
As one of the Jets in West Side Story, Winters played A-Rab and had solo dance performances in the numbers “Cool” and “Officer Krumpky.” He has directed and produced more than 400 television series, specials and motion pictures. He also served as Elvis Presley’s lead choreographer in four films.
“I’ve been a dancer all of my life, which means I was always active and moving around,” he said. “But, inevitably, time and family history catch up with you. My father died of a heart attack at 71.”
Winters has returned to choreographing and dancing and looks forward to returning to work while continuing to shoot his movie in Miami.