John Bassi: From Open-Heart Surgery To A Change Of Heart
At age 44, John Bassi believed he was relatively healthy.
However, he felt absolutely exhausted.
The born-and-raised Ottawa native was working incredibly long hours at the construction company his father had started years earlier. He attributed the long hours to his lack of energy.
“My hours were indicative of working in the industry,” he explains. “I was always running around like crazy for work, and I’d come home and be ready for bed. We’d be at social events and by 9:30 p.m. I’d be ready to go to bed. People would even joke about it!”
Meanwhile, his wife Maria had also noticed a change in him for several months.
“I saw a big dip in his energy levels, but I thought it was just that he needed to balance work with his high-stress job, and he needed to sleep more,” she recalls. “Neither of us ever thought it could have anything to do with his heart.”
With a young family and a bustling business, John did try his best to stay in shape, although it was often difficult to stay on track. One night, he played a game of pick-up soccer with some friends, but had difficulty keeping up with his peers.
At the time, John was a member of the Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation Board of Directors, he mentioned at a board meeting how challenging he had found his recent soccer experience. “One of the board members asked me when I last had my health checked, and I couldn’t remember,” he says.
John quickly made an appointment with his doctor and soon received some difficult news: John had experienced a mitral heart valve prolapse.
His immediate reaction: shock.
“I remember being in the room, not knowing what was going on when the doctor told me,” John recalls. “I expected my health issue to be something small and here they were, telling me I would need to go to the Ottawa Heart Institute for open heart surgery.
Hearing those words was like listening to the teacher in the Charlie Brown movies; I had to ask them to repeat it. I just couldn’t believe it.”
A SECOND OPINION
In the aftermath of learning about his heart condition, John went online to do some research about the surgery.
“You start seeing all this stuff and think ‘I’m going to die,’” he says. “I realized this wasn’t a light operation, and there was a slight possibility it wouldn’t be successful. That’s when it really hits you, and you wonder if your kids and family will be okay. That was tough to go through.”
Determined to get a second opinion, he went to a reputable facility in the United States to see another doctor.
“I wanted to get back to work as soon as possible, so I wanted to see what all my options were,” says John.
The advice he received down south? Go back to Ottawa.
“When the doctor I saw in the US realized I was in Ottawa, and would be in the hands of Dr. Thierry Mesana (the President and CEO of the Ottawa Heart Institute), he literally told me ‘go back home; you have one of the best doctors in the world doing your surgery.’
“You really can’t get any better reassurance than that.”
Maria agrees wholeheartedly. “We needed to have a second opinion on all the different procedures available, but when a clinic that has something to gain financially by taking you on as a patient tells you that you’re already in the best hands…it solidified our faith,” she says.
PREPARING FOR SURGERY
John and his family waited approximately four months for his surgery.
“I was a pack of nerves,” he says. “I was concerned about my family, about my two young
boys and my wife. And I was preparing myself for the worst, while still trying to run a business. I even had some anxiety attacks where Maria had to calm me down.”
He tried to stay positive for his sons Anthony and Mario, then ages 11 and 15.
“They were definitely scared and worried about John,” says Maria. “As someone sitting in the wings, you realize just how much something like this affects the whole family. Not just me and the kids, but our parents, friends, and many others.”
However, the Heart Institute found ways to help everyone through John’s upcoming surgery.
“From the time we walked into the Heart Institute, everybody was calm, compassionate and caring— from reception, through to the administrative staff, and then the surgeon,” says Maria. “And knowing that Dr. Mesana was one of the best in the world, and seeing just how patient and warm and confident he was…that trickles down to the patient and then to the rest of the family.”
To further ease the tension everyone was feeling, John arranged a small surprise for Maria and his boys.
“We had wanted a little dog for a long time, but John had been opposed to it,” says Maria. “But before his surgery, he surprised us all and arranged to buy a Shih-poo dog for us. John
always says he hates Teddy but he really loves him—I call Teddy his good luck charm because John’s surgery was such a success!”
Just before his 45th birthday, John underwent a successful operation at the hands of Dr. Mesana and with the support of the medical team at the Heart Institute.
Waking from his surgery, John remembers seeing his family for the first time.
“The Heart Institute saved my life; it was very emotional for me,” he says.
The moment was especially emotional because, upon waking, he learned his grandmother had passed away.
“My grandmother helped in raising me, so I was very close to her. At the time, before my own surgery, she was in the hospital and I would go visit her. I knew she was near the end of her life, but the nurses told me she was hanging on, waiting to ensure my surgery had gone well.
“When I woke up, I was told she had passed. But I was so happy to have everyone else around me.”
John immediately felt a difference in his health. When he returned home, he did rehab under the watchful eye of his wife – and fitness instructor – Maria, walking around his community regularly.
“I had energy almost right away,” he says. “In fact, I was back to work within four weeks of my surgery, starting with a couple hours each day.”
Both John and Maria credit the Heart Institute for his speedy recovery. “It was a five-star team from the time we arrived to the time we left,” says Maria. “The nurses were fantastic, from day one through his surgery and recovery. We would get a new nurse every day or so, and they became more amazing as the days went on!”
“And Dr. Mesana is a class act,” adds John. “I still get emotional thinking about the whole thing.”
A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON LIFE
John’s life-changing experience was just that: life-changing.
“God willing, I came out of surgery, everything went well, and I now have a completely different outlook on life,” says John.
Two years ago, he decided to semi-retire and sold 70% of his stake in the family business. He continues to work in real estate development, but has more time to spend with his family.
“I see them more and travel more with them too,” he says. “I love seeing my kids growing up, and being there for them. Life used to be work, work, work—and now I can enjoy it all.”
For his 50th birthday this past summer, his family and a few close friends prepared an intimate luncheon in celebration.
“I didn’t want any gifts, so I asked people to donate to the Heart Institute—and a small number of people raised a considerable amount of money,” he says, adding, “I’m so grateful to have a healthy family, a beautiful wife that supports me, two beautiful kids, and an extended group of family and friends that money can’t buy.”
Meanwhile, Maria says John has made a significant improvement in his fitness levels. “He’s come 360 for sure,” she says.
“WE ARE SO BLESSED”
John is no longer on the Heart Institute Foundation’s board of directors; however, he and his wife have continued their support financially, and are always encouraging others to donate to the Heart Institute.
“There are so many things out there to give money to, but I would absolutely recommend the Heart Institute if you want to see your dollars go to work,” says Maria. “I personally saw the
benefits of previous donations when my husband had to go in. He was very, very lucky to be in their hands. The level of care was 10/10.”
The Bassis consider themselves “blessed” to live in a city like Ottawa, where a place like the Heart Institute exists.
“We are a very fortunate city to have an institute like this in Ottawa,” says Maria. “Think of all the people in the city and surrounding areas — so many lives have been saved or changed because of the Heart Institute. We are so blessed to have these doctors, staff and nurses, and the way they work as a team to save the lives of people of all ages. Other people in the world don’t have that access like we do.”
John agrees. “We have a class-act system here that we cannot take for granted; it truly saves people’s lives. It saved mine.”