Interview, October 17, 2014
About five years ago I started feeling old, even though I was only 41. I was tired, had frequent colds and coughs and was out of breath after climbing only a few flights of stairs. I mentioned being tired and out of breath to a friend, and he said he felt the same things. We blamed it on age and no exercise.After a weekend trip to my uncle’s farm in Nebraska to help cut hay, I returned home short of breath and had to sleep sitting up. Because the work was dusty, I thought I had a respiratory infection.
I made an appointment with my doctor who ordered a chest X-ray and an EKG (electrocardiogram) which determines heart rate, heart rhythm and other information about the heart’s condition.
When the nurse asked if someone had driven me there I figured I had more than a respiratory problem. Dr. Weippert told me I needed to see a cardiologist. Now.
He sent me to Dr. Ravi Bajaj for an echocardiogram. It showed an ejection fraction of 20 percent. Normal is above 50 percent.
I was admitted to the hospital with congestive heart failure and an ultimate diagnosis of nonischemic cardiomyopathy, which is damage to the heart muscle. After three days in the hospital I lost 20 pounds of water off of my heart and lungs, and my ejection fraction leveled off at 35 percent.
My father died at 57 of a massive heart attack. His father died of the same thing when he was 49. I was apparently on the same path.
In May of 2010 I had a pacemaker/defibrillator implanted. Nine months later — and 13 years to the day that my dad passed away — I was on the treadmill and received a shock from my defibrillator. It was an eerie feeling, and quite a jolt.
When I saw Dr. Bajaj he said it was because my heart rate was too high for too long. With a few changes I have been fine ever since.
After receiving my pacemaker/defibrillator I became very health conscious, but after awhile my health kick tapered off. When I was on the verge of having to buy larger pants, I’d had enough. I’m exercising again and have lost 30 pounds since December 2013. No new pants, just a smaller belt.
Our family enjoys active vacations. Since my treatment we have climbed two Colorado 14ers — mountains above 14,000 feet — and my wife and I hiked in Italy. I’m also a runner, and Dr. Bajaj recently gave me his OK to run a full marathon.
If you have a family history of heart issues, get checked out and educated on symptoms. I didn’t, and it caught up with me.
Thanks to Dr. Bajaj, I can now do practically anything my HEART desires.