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Tom Schneider

  • Author: Tom Schneider
  • Date Submitted: Feb 27, 2018
  • Category: Heart & Vascular

Tom Schneider played senior softball on some of the nation's best teams over the past 23 years before health issues derailed his 2017 season.

But the 76-year-old Visalia resident is plotting to relaunch his decorated career in 2018 following successful open-heart surgery performed by Dr. Leheb Araim at Kaweah Health Medical Center.

"I feel very strongly that I will be playing come this spring," said Tom, who in 2009 was named to the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame.

The 6-foot-4, 245-pound power-hitting first baseman is on the mend following a procedure on May 31, 2017, that involved two bypasses, a valve replacement and a valve repair on Tom's heart. The issues were discovered after he went to the Emergency Department on March 28, 2017, with stroke-like symptoms.

"He had a complicated case, but a good result and a good recovery. He's actually doing very well," Dr. Araim said.

It all started when Tom left home at 10 a.m. March 28 to get a haircut and pick up a pie at Marie Callender's for his wife, Patty. When Tom returned home around 11:30 a.m., Patty noticed that he looked a little out of sorts. She complimented Tom on his haircut and thanked him for picking up the pie. But Tom did not remember doing either, so he decided to take a nap. When he awoke, he remembered getting a haircut and a pie, but he had no recollection that he had initially come home and forgot that he had done both errands.

“I thought of those as stroke-like symptoms and told him that he needed to go to the family doctor or the Emergency Department,” said Patty, who took Tom to Kaweah Health.

There, an MRI found that even though Tom had suffered a stroke-like attack, there was no blood or fluid leaking from his brain, ruling out an actual stroke. So he was put on a heart monitor and given an echocardiogram, a test that showed that Tom in fact had a heart problem. He was told that he would need surgery.

Tom and Patty then began the process of finding a surgeon to fix his heart problems. With insurance that would cover the cost for nearly any doctor in the nation, the Schneider's considered going to Stanford, the Mayo Clinic, or to Southern California before a softball-playing friend from Orange Cove suggested Dr. Araim, a nationally recognized heart surgeon based in Visalia.

After an initial appointment, Tom came away impressed with the preparedness of Dr. Araim, who had thoroughly studied Tom's medical records.

"I was convinced he was the right man for the job," Tom said.

Tom's condition made for a long and difficult surgery, Dr. Araim said, but several factors aligned to make it a successful one.

"It's nice to see a patient motivated to get better," Dr. Araim said. "That makes a big difference in how well they do. A big part was the diagnosis and the plan before he developed symptoms. We did the right operation for the right patient at the right time."

Tom spent a week at Kaweah Health Medical Center before being transferred for an eight-day stay at Kaweah Health Rehabilitation Hospital, where certified therapists provide specialized training designed to get patients heathy and back to life as they know it. He was discharged in mid-June and began cardiac rehabilitation in late July. Having completed rehab in November 2017, Tom plans to begin training in earnest for a return to the softball diamond.

Patty said she was impressed with the exceptionally high level of care provided by Dr. Araim and the staff of the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at Kaweah Health.

"That's the most impressive unit I've ever seen," Patty said. "I never would have believed I'd see that in a Visalia hospital. For people that have to have open heart surgery in this town, they are fortunate to have this hospital and this doctor. We tell everyone we know they have to look no further than Visalia for the care they need."

Tom also has high praise for Dr. Araim.

"I can't rank him any higher," Tom said. "He is just an outstanding, A-plus doctor and person. And that's the key; he's not only a great medical doctor, but a concerned doctor. You don't always find that today. I didn't think you would find that kind of doctor in Visalia. He did an outstanding job, and I was very impressed with the hospital."