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Divine Medical Intervention: Houston Pastor’s Heart Is Restored

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Father Ben Receives Heart Valve Replacement and Stent at Baylor St. Luke’s

As the pastor for St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Houston, Father Ben Smaistrla is a busy man. From leading daily mass and caring for more than 2,700 families to performing events like weddings, funerals, and quinceaneras, the 72-year-old needs all the energy he can get.

“I enjoy helping people of all ages grow spiritually to activate their faith,” said Father Ben, who has served as a religious leader for 45 years—19 of those being at St. Ambrose.

However, over the past few years, he has experienced some health conditions that have affected his divine work. In August 2016, Dr. Neil Strickman, interventional cardiologist at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, performed a TAVR procedure on Father Ben. This minimally invasive procedure repaired his damaged aortic valve. Then, in December 2017, a stroke scan revealed that his carotid arteries were clogged. His right carotid artery was 100 percent blocked, while his left artery was partially blocked.

The carotid arteries are two major blood vessels in the neck that transfer blood from the heart to the brain. Plaque buildup (atherosclerosis) composed of fatty substances that harden against the artery walls blocks blood from flowing to the brain. This buildup was affecting Father Ben’s health.

“I had very few symptoms,” he said. “I felt fatigued, had a little bit of problem focusing mentally, and my energy level was low.”

Not taking care of the condition can cause a blood clot to form and potentially lead to a stroke. To prevent a stroke from occurring, Dr. Strickman placed a stent in Father Ben’s left artery to free up the blood flow. Both procedures were performed under local anesthesia, allowing for quick recovery times and excellent results. Now, he feels much better.

“After the valve replacement and stent insertion, I am back to my old self,” he said. “My energy has returned, and I am thinking more clearly again.”

Father Ben is thankful for the compassionate care he received from Dr. Strickman and the entire Baylor St. Luke’s staff.

“It was a very good experience,” he said. “The procedures were explained beforehand, the follow-ups were done very well, and my recuperation time was short. I felt comfortable with Dr. Strickman and all of his associates. I couldn’t have asked for any better care, and I was deeply appreciative.”

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