University Hospitals Guest Post: HCM Patient Returns to Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Blog Date
Stuart O. Smith, Jr.
University Hospitals

NOTE from Stuart: On January 2, 2024, I was asked by the University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute Senior Media Relations Strategist to have my story added to The Science of Health blog and the Heart & Vascular Patient Stories sections of the University Hospitals website for February -- American Heart Month. I provided the photo for the story, and approved the story before it was published on the hospital's website. You can read the original post here:

The reason that I chose to publish this HCM recovery blog post today, Wednesday, February 28, 2024, was because the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association announced that today was HCM Awareness Day.

As we come to the end of American Heart Month 2024, I am glad to have permission from University Hospitals to share their blog post about my HCM recovery story with you on my blog:

HCM Patient Returns to Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Stuart O. Smith, Jr., on Mount Greylock, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of Stuart O. Smith, Jr. -

Stuart O. Smith, Jr., is a retired website director and experienced backpacker. Now in his mid-sixties, Stuart is a former Appalachian Trail thru-hiker and has been section hiking the Appalachian Trail for 10 years in the hope of completing the entire trail a second time. In early 2023, this man, who hiked mountains, suddenly couldn’t walk up two steps without feeling winded.

Stuart was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a condition affecting the left ventricle (the main pumping chamber) of the heart. In people with HCM, the walls of the left ventricle become thick and stiff. Over time, the pressures in the heart rise. In Stuart’s case, the thickened heart muscle was also intermittently blocking blood flow out to the body.

Symptoms of HCM can include gasping for air, lightheadedness or weakness, and the feeling of a heavy chest or chest pain.

People with HCM may need to make lifestyle changes, such as limiting their activity to adjust for their disease. As the disease progresses, it can cause other health problems. People with HCM are at higher risk for developing atrial fibrillation, which can lead to blood clots, stroke and other heart-related complications. HCM may also lead to life-threatening heart failure.

“I had to quit hiking, which was devastating,” said Stuart.

But soon he regained hope, thanks to his caregivers at University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute. Stuart and his cardiologist, Eiran Gorodeski, MD, MPH, developed a plan.

“I did a lot of research on my own, as well as discussed options with my doctors,” he said. “I knew that the success rate was high with the option I ultimately chose.”

In April of 2023, Stuart underwent open-heart surgery at UH Cleveland Medical Center to address his HCM.

“Stuart’s surgery went very well. We performed a procedure known as septal myectomy where a portion of the overgrown and thickened muscle that is causing obstruction was removed. Stuart’s surgery was uneventful, and he made an excellent recovery,” said Stuart’s cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Yasir Abu-Omar, Surgical Director of the Advanced Heart Failure & Transplant Center, and Russ and Connie Lincoln Chair in Cardiovascular Innovation at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.

“The first day I got home from the hospital, I walked just under a mile. And the second day home from the hospital, I walked just under a mile,” he said.

“Many of his symptoms disappeared,” said Dr. Gorodeski. “The trophy on the top was that he was able to go back to hiking, which honestly, I wasn't sure he was ever going to be able to do. We always hope for the best outcome for our patients, but Stuart exceeded our expectations, which is just wonderful.”

Just two months after his surgery, Stuart was back to day hiking sections of the Buckeye Trail to rebuild his strength. This led to him being able to take a 54-mile backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts just five months after his open-heart surgery.

“My endurance returned to how it was previously, like I’d never experienced the surgery or a heart condition,” Stuart said.

Today, Stuart has no HCM symptoms. He says his stamina and strength are great. He’s back to normal, living his life to the fullest.

It feels very strange to be sharing my story for American Heart Month -- February 2024, since it was exactly a year ago that my symptoms started to severely impact my life. (See the January/February 2023 - The Blogs Not Writtencrying section of my Blogiversary blog post.) Everything I am able to do today is a direct result of my open-heart surgery on April 27, 2023.

To learn more about my experiences from December 7, 2022, through June 4, 2023, please read my first three Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy blog posts:


(Note the dates on the above three blog posts. In June 2023, I felt I was on my way to recovery, and then decided to make my HCM story public on my blog. I was told that the ". . . first month is the highest risk for post-open-heart-surgery patients needing to return to the hospital.")

This is my sixth HCM blog post and the third "recovery" blog post of my HCM series. See the following two blog posts which were a result of my cardiologist, Eiran Gorodeski MD, MPH, recommending that I share my story on television:


As I wrote in my last HCM recovery blog post: "I am already planning more adventures in 2024, which are possible thanks to my successful open-heart surgery at University Hospitals."