As the months passed, he grew more fatigued. At first, he exercised strenuously, but eventually his runs turned into brisk walks, and he stopped surfing. Then, in January 2021, magnetic resonance imaging showed he had an aneurysm on the ascending aorta. An aneurysm, a bulge on the blood vessel caused by a weakness in the vessel wall, can burst, causing a stroke, brain damage or even death.
Foss needed open-heart surgery to a replace his damaged aortic valve, but first he had to decide what sort of replacement valve the surgeon would use.
Mechanical valves can last a lifetime, but they come with increased risks of blood clotting and bleeding, as well as the need to take blood-thinning medications, which in Foss’ case could spell the end of his military career. Biological valves, which are most often made from pig or cow tissue or tissue from cadavers, don’t increase the risk of bleeding or clotting, but they wear out in about 10 to 15 years, requiring a second surgery. Neither was a great option for Foss, given that he was a relatively young 41.
A heart surgeon in Santa Barbara — about an hour’s drive from his home in Lompoc — reviewed his case. He mentioned a third surgical option, the Ross procedure. First performed by Donald Ross, MD, a British surgeon, in 1967, the procedure is technically demanding and rarely performed.