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Ira David Wood III is known for his poignant portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol - a role he reprised for 35 consecutive years. He would have counted 2010 as the 36th had it not been for a serious heart problem.
Insurance coverage for the production of A Christmas Carol is a requirement. To maintain coverage, the show's leading actor and the theater's founder, executive director and artistic director (all "roles" played by David) must undergo an annual physical exam.
Dr. Bob Harris performed David's exam. "I noticed that he was spending more time than usual listening to my heart," said David. "Then he asked, 'How long have you had this heart murmur?'"
Dr. Harris referred him to Dr. Tift Mann, a cardiologist with Wake Heart and Vascular Associates. After David had an ultrasound, Dr. Mann sat down to talk to him and his wife, Ashley. "'This is serious, and I want you in the OR in a week' is what he told us," said David. Because of a lifetime of maintaining an active lifestyle, David's heart muscle was strong. Unfortunately, an aortic aneurysm and related aortic heart valve issue were threatening his life.
When David got home after his appointment, he called his son, Ira David Wood IV, and asked him to come over. David told his son that he would have to take over the part of Scrooge. "I said 'Hello, Mr. Scrooge,' and all the color drained out of his face," David recalled.
The day of David's surgery, Dr. Lance Landvater, a cardiothoracic surgeon with Carolina Cardiovascular Surgical Associates who performed David's procedure, offered additional assurance to the Woods. "He told my wife that he wasn't going to be giving hourly progress reports; he was going to give all his attention to me. That was a great reassurance to both of us," said David.
Wood's surgery was extensive, but, fortunately for David, Dr. Landvater is highly experienced in performing the procedures he needed. As it turns out, David's problem - an aortic aneurysm - was the same problem that took the life of actor John Ritter. Ritter's aneurysm dissected; David's did not. David's was caught and corrected in time.
Dr. Landvater replaced David's entire ascending aorta, half of his aortic arch and the aortic root, which holds the aortic valve. He also replaced David's aortic valve with a tissue valve and re-implanted David's own coronary arteries.
Progress reports did come from other staff members involved in David's procedure. "Everybody told me I had the A-Team working on me," said David. "I had so many questions after the surgery, and Dr. Landvater and all the nurses took the time to answer them. I learned a lot."
The advice and information he received before and after his surgery continues to serve David well. "I am listening to my body and learning not to push it," he said. "The WakeMed staff also gave me better knowledge about how to shop for food, cut back on sodium and things like that. I don't feel like I am missing anything."
How has David's experience changed his life? Though far from the miserly curmudgeon he plays each Christmas season, David's post-surgical rediscovery of the beauty in the world mirrors Scrooge's epiphany after his visits with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.
"I see the world through different eyes," said David. "Ashley and I are so thankful for everything in our world. I am celebrating every moment, and I really feel like I have regained my senses to rediscover, re-evaluate and appreciate everything I have."
His plans for the future are equally optimistic and light. "I am looking forward to enjoying life and doing more theater that I know will change lives."
Learn more about the WakeMed Heart Center
3000 New Bern Ave.
Raleigh, NC 27610