James Reynolds (Abe) eagerly returned to work at the DAYS OF OUR LIVES studio on July 17, nearly two months after undergoing heart valve replacement surgery at a Pasadena hospital on May 24. Reynolds weighs in on the condition (arterial stenosis) that prompted it, his emergency operation, and how it all changed his life.
Soap Opera Weekly: So how are you feeling post-surgery?
James Reynolds: I’m feeling better than my old self. There was a nurse at the hospital the last few days I was there. She had gone through the same procedure. She actually gave me some great advice on what to expect in the coming weeks and how to deal with certain things. She said, “It’s like your body is being rebooted. It’s all new again.” That’s exactly what’s happening.
Weekly: What exactly went down? It seemed like it all happened so quickly. No one even knew you were ill.
Reynolds: Well, there was no pre-news. It was that fast. I had known that I had a heart murmur. My doctors found it about two years ago; my asthma doctor discovered it and sent me to a cardiologist. It turned out that what my asthma doctor thought was a heart murmur was actually a deteriorating valve. I was born with a bicuspid valve. Most people have three valves in their heart that blood passes through. One in 50 men are born with two valves instead of three. It’s not a big major problem unless one develops arterial stenosis, which is what I had. At that point, the diagnosis was that it wasn’t very serious. So I could pretty much go on and live my life. We were going to check it every year.
Weekly: So the condition deteriorated by the time of your next yearly checkup?
Reynolds: Yes. I went in for a checkup a year later, and the doctor asked for a whole battery of tests. The last one was an angiogram. Afterward, the doctor approached me with a surgeon. They both said, “Look, you really can’t leave the hospital. Your valve has deteriorated to such a point that it’s weakened your heart horribly.”
Weekly: How quickly was surgery scheduled from that point?
Reynolds: Well, I saw the doctors on a Wednesday and had surgery that Friday. I had no time to think, which was a blessing. I really approached this with no apprehension and very little concern at all. It was so fast that my attention had to fly to my responsibilities. I had to take care of issues like working on the show, things I had to do for my family. That was where all of my attention was focused. It didn’t allow me a lot of time to put any attention on the upcoming heart surgery.
Weekly: And since Abe was about to have a corneal transplant on DAYS, arranging time off for your surgery coincided perfectly.
Reynolds: It did. In a lot of ways it couldn’t have worked out better. There certainly may have been times, as far as the show was concerned, when it would have been less of a possibility for me to go into the hospital. At this moment it turned out to work well for both the character and me.
Weekly: What was the recovery process like?
Reynolds: I was in the ICU for 10 days. Then, I was in the hospital for another week after I was out of the ICU. It was a long haul. I’ve got to say, though, that the nurses and the doctors were just fantastic. Everyone did everything they could to make my stay as comfortable as possible.
Weekly: What’s been the prognosis since the surgery?
Reynolds: My checkups have all gone very well. I seem to have come through it pretty well. The surgeon said I got off the heart/lung machine faster than anybody he’s ever had. I was fortunate — the doctors mentioned this a couple times — that I kept myself in good shape. I worked out a lot throughout my life. I’m not a smoker. I don’t drink to excess. I wasn’t overweight. All those things that give [people] problems. I felt good about that.
Weekly: You must have created quite a stir at the hospital with all your visiting DAYS castmates.
Reynolds: Oh, yeah. There were some folks that came in to visit, although I’m not going to go into naming them. The minute they left, my room was packed from people from the hospital. “Oh! That was so-and-so. How are they doing? Are you going to have a storyline with them?” It was great.
Weekly: Who came up with the jrrecovery.com Web site that gave updates on your condition throughout this ordeal?
Reynolds: [My wife] Lissa’s cousin and her best friend worked to put that together. It couldn’t have been more of a savior, because there were so many phone calls. And Lissa and my son, Jed, were so busy doing everything, and one of them was at the hospital with me all the time throughout [my hospital stay]. It didn’t matter what time of the day it was. The Web site did a lot. It kept people up to date and lifted my spirits. A lot of people who wrote in were friends and fans. The fans have been gracious throughout this, not only on the blog, but with cards that I’ve gotten.