Joseph Kimball is a true cowboy at heart, really. When doctors discovered a congenital heart problem last year, they suggested he get his defective aortic valve replaced with a mechanical, metal valve. When he got a second opinion and discovered he could instead get a bovine tissue valve, from a cow, with no blood thinners required, he jumped at the chance.
Joseph Kimball is a true cowboy at heart, really.
When doctors discovered a congenital heart problem last year, they suggested he get his defective aortic valve replaced with a mechanical, metal valve.
However, Kimball would have to give up his career because he would have to be on blood thinners for the rest of his life.
When he got a second opinion and discovered he could instead get a bovine tissue valve, from a cow, with no blood thinners required, he jumped at the chance. This would allow Kimball to continue his passion for riding, roping and working with horses.
"It kind of fit," said Kimball, 46, who lives in Queen Creek with his wife and two daughters. "I tell people I'm a cowboy at heart, but my friends just laugh and say I'm full of bull."
Kimball thought he was just out of shape when he first started feeling lethargic. Then he got really sick last October, started coughing up blood and lost a lot of weight. He flew home from a rodeo after he couldn't even walk to the barn.
Doctors told him his kidneys and liver were failing, and his heart function was down to 10 percent. If he hadn't gone to the hospital when he did, he would have died within days, Kimball was told by his doctors.
Kimball needed his defective aortic valve replaced, and that's when he made the choice to go the animal tissue route.
On Jan. 13, Kimball had the four-hour surgery at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.
Besides his defective aortic valve, Kimball also had an aneurysm, or ballooning of his aorta, "which added to the complexity of his procedure," said Lishan Aklog, chief of cardiovascular surgery at St. Joseph's Heart and Lung Institute, who performed the surgery.
Kimball also developed a heart arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat, and had two cardiac arrests after the surgery. He now temporarily has a pacemaker to shock his heart if he has any other problems.
"His heart was weakened because it was pumping through the blocked valve," Aklog said. "People who have a weakened heart are prone to developing bad arrhythmia. What was unique about him is how sick he was."
The procedure was also done through the least invasive approach, so Kimball could go back to being active as soon as possible, Aklog said.
"He's done amazingly well," Aklog said. "The reason he's doing so well is he's a very positive, upbeat guy. His heart function has improved dramatically."
Within four weeks of his surgery, Kimball was back riding his horses and has since competed in a couple of rodeos.
"Man, can I breathe now," said Kimball, while patting the neck of his horse, Screamin' Turbo, at a friend's horse arena in Gilbert. "Doctors told me it was like a gorilla was stepping on a hose, and now the gorilla has stepped off."
Getting back to his horses was important to Kimball. Although he'd been around houses since he was a little boy, it wasn't until he was 35 years old that he decided to get into the roping arena.
He changed his career from drawing landscapes to training horses, team roping and farrier work.
"I've always loved how horses smell," said Kimball, who is helping a friend now at a rodeo in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. "They're magnificent animals. They teach you so much, if you just listen to them."
Kimball said he learned from the best professional rodeo cowboys and farriers and is now one classification away from being a professional.
He has won horse trailers, saddles, belt buckles and money, and he travels frequently to compete and help friends in rodeos around the country.
His next rodeo is around Labor Day in Flagstaff.
"In life, it's not if you can, but if you will," Kimball said. "This is also something I can do with my girls."
Kimball has been married to his wife, Deena, for 11 years. He also has two daughters; Rachel, a Higley High School senior, and Kaycee Jo, a second-grader at Benjamin Franklin Charter School in Queen Creek.
"I think sometimes in life, these things (health problems) make you appreciate what you have," Kimball said. "Now I just have to get 100 percent better.
"Many people don't get a second chance like that."