Bill Sand used to tease his wife about eating salads and other health-conscious foods. “I called it rabbit food,” he said. Now he’s enjoying those foods right along with her. That’s because Bill had a life-changing, massive heart attack in November of 2010
In the early morning hours of November 1, Bill was relaxing in his living room, watching television. When he stood up to turn off the TV, he felt severe chest pain that radiated down his arm and up to his jaw. “I knew right away that I was having a heart attack,” he recalls.
Without question, Bill knew exactly where he needed to be. “I just kept saying to myself, ‘If I can make it to Mercy, I’ll be okay.’ That was my entire focus.”
Bill was immediately seen in the Mercy Emergency Department and rushed to the Catheterization Lab. Bill’s heart stopped beating twice in the Cath Lab, and his outlook appeared grim. Dr. Jihad Khalil performed angioplasties to clear Bill’s blocked arteries, and Dr. Karin Loukinen placed two stents to keep the vessels open.
“I spent about five hours in the Cath Lab, and even when I was moved to the ICU, Dr. Khalil still only gave me a 10% chance of surviving,” said Bill.
His heart was in bad shape. Dr. Khalil inserted a balloon pump to keep his heart pumping. Bill was beginning to learn just how severe his heart attack was and was surprised when Dr. Khalil told him that he had a previous heart attack that had caused significant heart damage.
Bill spent seven days at Mercy. When he was discharged, his ejection fraction (which measures the percent of blood pumped out of the heart each time it contracts) was under 35 percent. A normal ejection fraction is between 50 and 70 percent.
“He was at risk of sudden cardiac death,” said Dr. Khalil.
Bill was fitted with a life vest that contained an external defibrillator, which would automatically shock his heart if he went into cardiac arrest.
With the poor condition his heart was in, Bill was advised to go on disability—very discouraging news for a man who loves his job. Prior to his heart attack, Bill was living a lifestyle that’s common for many of us. He didn’t exercise, he was overweight, he smoked, and he ate red meat seven days a week.
“I knew better, but we all live in that world of denial that it won’t happen to us,” he said. “I was living in denial that you could do all those things to your body and not have a bad outcome at some point.”
Bill found his motivation to change: wanting to watch his grandchildren grow up. Bill began Mercy’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program where he started exercising and learning about nutrition.
“I told the nurses at Cardiac Rehab that I would do whatever they told me to do. And they worked my butt off.”
Six weeks after Bill’s heart attack, he returned to Medical Associates for an appointment with Dr. Khalil. The next plan was to insert a pacemaker. But Dr. Khalil had good news for Bill: His ejection fraction was at 50, the low end of normal. Bill wouldn’t need a pacemaker and could return to work—excellent news.
“Bill is a role model for people with bad habits,” said Dr. Khalil. “It’s difficult to change those habits but not impossible. Listening to his doctors, taking his medications, and changing his habits helped a lot with his recovery and prevented him from having more procedures and further risk.”
“This experience has changed my perspective on a lot of things,” said Bill. “That’s why now it’s my responsibility to do everything that the doctors and nurses tell me to do. I was given a second chance, and it’s best not to waste it because I might not get a third.”
Bill is now exercising a minimum of 30 minutes every day (and aiming for 60); he eats a low-sodium diet that includes fruit, vegetables, chicken, and fish (not fried or loaded with tarter sauce); and he quit smoking. He’s already lost a good amount of weight and is aiming for 20 pounds more. And he’s spending a lot of time with his grandchildren.
Bill credits Drs. Loukinen and Khalil and Cardiac Rehab with saving his life.
“A lot of people don’t know that if you have a heart attack or a heart problem that Mercy Medical Center in Dubuque is the best place to go, and actually the only place to go. They’re the only ones that have a full Cath Lab,” said Bill.
Bill is back to work and feeling better than ever. He’s committed to and enjoying his new lifestyle, and when people comment on how serious he is, he replies, “I’m as serious as a heart attack. I’ve had one, and I don’t want another one. I have way too much to live for.”