Dr Dennis Godby recovering from heart surgery shares a smile with nurse

Life lessons, practical advice and gratitude

Sacramento, Calif.- Kindness was everywhere. One could easily experience it in the hospital hallways, in patient rooms, and wherever people were gathered. I imagine that most healthcare workers go into healthcare because they want to make this world a more compassionate, livable, and loving place, I was shocked by the consistent display of compassion and tenderness emanating from every single staff member that I encountered. During the nearly 168 hours I spent in intensive and cardiac after care, I felt supported by every doctor, RN, nursing assistant and support staff.

One week ago, today, at 4:30 in the morning, I walked from my own Naturopathic Doctor’s office, past St. Francis Church, where my parents got married, and then around Sutter’s Fort State Park into Sutter Health Hospital. I was feeling extremely ready for Dr. Mohammed’s surgical prep team to do their thing in preparing my body for the 7:30 am surgery.

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Hoping for quick recovery

My only goal walking through the doors last Friday, besides hoping to recover as quickly as possible from the surgery, was to take this opportunity to be with each person for whom I came into contact. Whether they be a receptionist, a custodian, RN, orderly, or any other person, I was going to greet them, and genuinely ask them how their day was going, and to show interest in them as a human being, in whatever job they were doing at Sutter. I firmly believe that we all have 100% control over our attitude. I had 0% control over how my surgery turned out. But, regardless of my pain or comfort, I imagined that I had complete ability to control my narrative. There are no words to adequately describe the joy I felt in meeting so many some amazing, loving, hard-working, respectful people and showing them love and respect in return. I felt that this was my way to create my mini “heaven on earth” while on this planet with them.

Mitral valve

On the medical level, open-heart surgery/replacing the leaky mitral valve was my only option. Without surgical replacement, my heart would have eventually gone into congestive heart failure. Because of my age, I was often asked if I was still working, and I would proudly say, “I am a Naturopathic Doctor.” I was fairly surprised that few, if any of the staff that had asked me, including many nurses, cardiologists, or other medical staff, had heard of a Naturopathic Doctor. This was especially surprising to me given that I have been practicing Naturopathic Medicine for 19 years, only 2 blocks from where my surgery took place. I guess we do a poor job of marketing ourselves.

At least several dozen practitioners expressed interest in my profession. The chief of cardio surgery told me he should come to see me as a patient to learn how to prevent cardiovascular disease, because, as he said, your cardiac issue, was not lifestyle-related, but because of other factors. Dr. Mohammed, my surgeon, said that if there was more of a focus on prevention in conventional medicine, the need for surgeries would be dramatically reduced. A cardiologist who checked in on me was extremely interested in asking how herbs/botanicals could help prevent/treat/reverse cardiovascular disease. I told him of Dr. Jillian Stanbury’s 5-volume series, “Herbal Formulas for Health Professionals, Volume 2, Circulation and Respiration.”

Staff at Sutter health

After conversing with dozens of Sutter Health staff over the week, they seemed to really love their job, and understand their role in helping patients to get healthy, and after we had discussed Naturopathic Medicine, they also believed that more emphasis in conventional medicine should be placed on lifestyle and prevention.

One thing is for sure, I felt respected as a patient, far more than I ever expected. The MD or RN always told me what was going on medically, of my vitals, of EKG results, etc. If the medical staff recommended a drug, they would explain why it would be helpful, the potential downsides, etc. They never once tried to manipulate me into taking a drug for “my own good.” They respected me as a human being and gave me a choice. Because of the nature of the surgery, pain management was a huge factor in my care. I must have been asked about 50 times how my pain was on a 1-10 scale. They wanted me to be in control of my own pain management, to stay ahead of the pain, but they always had their safe parameters.


The first few days after the surgery, I went from no atrial fibrillation to a. fib., to First Degree Heart Block and some then pericarditis (because of the immediate side effect of the surgery). Pericarditis is inflammation of the 2-layer covering of the heart. Because of the a. fib., I was now on course to be on multiple pharmaceuticals, which I had never done before. So far, it seems that it has gone well, medically.

I was also often asked at the hospital, as a very healthy person, how did I end up finding out about the need for open heart surgery? Here’s the scoop. Last November I got the news that my sister’s Stage 3C ovarian cancer battle of 18 years had worsened and so, upon the urging of my wife, I bought my ticket to fly north to Alaska. But then, I contacted COVID, and a nasty cough that would not stop. Fearing pneumonia, and the very real possibility of having to cancel my trip because of my illness, I made my way to Sutter Urgent Care.

Within minutes of seeing the doctor, he diagnosed me with a murmur. The murmur was obvious. I credit him for doing the physical exam, and then following up with ordering an Echo test for me. I still say, he saved my life. The truth is that for the last two years or so when I climbed just one flight of stairs, I would experience shortness of breath. I was in denial about the meaning of my shortness of breath, probably because I had just walked from Myrtle Beach, SC to Milwaukee, WI, over the Appalachian Mountain range, over the last 2 years and did not notice it.

The great doctor ordered an X-Ray, and later in the day, he left a message that I had pneumonia, and prescribed an antibiotic. The antibiotic he prescribed, worked perfectly, and my trip north to Alaska went off without a hitch.

The bottom line is that the Echo revealed Mitral Valve Prolapse, with severe mitral regurgitation, and an enlarged left atrium. I saw the cardiologist, and, as I requested, he leveled with me. He told me, in very blunt terms, that I would need to get a valve replacement, which means open heart surgery, or I would eventually go into congestive heart failure. A later angiogram test gave further insights into my heart and how the surgeons should proceed.

“Man on a mission”

My cardiologist told me that the surgery would take 2 months to fully recover from. He told me that he knew I was a “man on a mission,” and wanted me to have the surgery as soon as possible so I could complete my mission. The mission the cardiologist was referring to is my 2022-2026 walk across the USA, for health equity. He and the surgeon told me that they believe I could easily be ready to walk the third-fifth of the route across USA, from Milwaukee to Fargo, ND, as planned. The cardiologist and surgeon believe I will be ready to go for my August 19-September 19 walk.

The urgent care doc discovered the murmur that I probably had for a couple of years, but it went undetected because I had not been to a doctor in years, until I went to urgent care for the cough, not for shortness of breath.

Please don’t ignore signs and symptoms. Please get regular checkups.

As I sit here on my backyard deck on Day 8 of my mitral valve surgery recovery, my parting messages for us are:

  • learn as much as you can about your health and how to prevent disease through a healthy diet, exercise, enough sleep, and
  • take control of your attitude as we are 100% responsible for our happiness and the health of our body,
  • laugh often,
  • treat everybody even better than they would expect to be treated,
  • go to doctors regularly, whether they be naturopathic, medical, acupuncture, chiropractic.
  • try not to miss the signs right in front of us.

Part 2: Recovery continues for Sacramento ND following heart surgery

Dr Dennis Godby

Explore additional topics from Dr. Godby, ND, MA at Natural Wellness.

As a naturopathic doctor for the last 18 years, I have witnessed the power of a preventative lifestyle and naturopathic medicine to transform the health and lives of thousands of patients.

Sacramento Naturopathic
2530 J Street, Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95816
Phone: (916) 446-2591

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