Families of patients undergoing heart surgery have an advocate in Gene Price. Now a volunteer in Excela Health’s open heart program, he knows the anxiety they feel, having been on the receiving end of surgical intervention a year ago.
Price’s heart history dates to 1996, when he had his first heart attack. “I died at Frick Hospital,” the Connellsville resident recalled, “and they brought me back.” After a second heart attack in 1997, Price’s health stabilized until last summer when “I felt like I was out of gas.” A cardiac catheterization revealed blockages that, if left unattended, would have caused another, possibly fatal, heart attack. In short order, Price had a quadruple bypass, and six days later, was on his way home. “It was a wonderful journey through the entire experience, and the care I received was just phenomenal. Being a heart patient for 13 years, I had a good idea of the kind of care I could anticipate. But it went way beyond my expectations.”
Prior to his discharge, Price was already planning how he could give back. “The cardiac rehab nurse was encouraging and informative and said ‘Give yourself a year to fully recover and then make a commitment.’ Almost a year to the day, I was back at Westmoreland, ready to do for others what was done for me.”
Price has been acclimated to the operating room and to the cardiothoracic surgery process. Even present in the OR during surgery as an observer, Price provides updates to the patient’s family at key transition points. “My heart has always been in counseling. God gave me the strength to turn my life around to be an encouragement to others. If I can ease a family’s concern and be a calm, positive influence along the way, my time will be well spent.”
Lori Coughenour’s mother had bypass surgery at age 59, and her brother experienced a heart attack at 49. “I don’t want to put my family through that kind of anxiety regarding me,” said the 43-year-old mother of three. While she can’t change her heredity, the Bullskin Township woman can be proactive regarding her health. Having experienced some classic symptoms — chest pain during exertion, tingling in her arm and hand — Coughenour underwent a cardiac catheterization a year ago, which ruled out blockages. “The test can be scary, but it’s an accurate way to get answers that lead to a positive outcome."
Diagnosed with coronary artery disease, or CAD, Coughenour manages her cholesterol with medication and maintains a fitness routine that even her 8-year-old twins can enjoy. “We walk or work out to an aerobic video, and there are healthy snacks mingled with the occasional treat. It’s not about our weight or the calories, although weight loss is a side effect. It’s about our health.”
Beyond her family’s story, the medical secretary also knows the stress patients experience as they try to get their health under control. “Having been on both sides, I have to take the warning signs to heart. My family deserves it.”
John Otto’s earliest symptoms masqueraded as the flu and remained hidden in the complications of hernia repair. It wasn’t until the avid hunter experienced a tightness in his throat while stalking a deer in 2008 that his heart health came into question. Cardiothoracic surgeon Mark M. Suzuki, MD, found five blocked arteries and performed quintuple bypass surgery. Otto relished his time in cardiac rehabilitation, learning how to regain his active lifestyle through nutrition and physical activity.
Given his age, now 75, he decided to trade in a free-wheeling bicycle for a stationary bike, and continues to rack up the miles pedaling away in his Indiana County home. That’s when he’s not out and about at some musical activity on the IUP campus or having lunch with a widening circle of friends.
Always one to set a good example, the retired maintenance worker with Westinghouse Airbrake is quick to dispense some fatherly medical advice to keep his three children on the straight and narrow. “I don’t smoke, drink or swear and I made sure the kids were in Sunday School and they turned out great. Now I’m watching what they eat. When my son, John, Penn Township’s chief of police, orders those chicken wings, I tell him that’s the part we used to throw away. I hope he listens. My dad died of a heart attack at age 54. I don’t want that family history to be repeated.” And now, he’s setting a good example for yet another generation—his grandchildren.
Ed Kohler was once in a constant state of heart failure, but the 73-year-old manufacturers' representative didn't let that slow him down. Instead, he relies on medication and a pacemaker to maintain a normal heart rhythm and an active lifestyle.
A rapid heartbeat and angina nearly a dozen years ago signaled something was out of sorts. That's when the New Stanton man received his first implantable cardiac device.
While Kohler's still going strong, the pacemaker needed to be replaced when its battery wore out. Improved technology will continue to keep Kohler in sync, as will the regular quarterly telephonic check-ups that test the pacemaker's functionality. But it's his attitude that will assure lasting good health. "I enjoy life to the max. When you have a happy outlook, even stressful situations can be taken in stride. You've just got to keep on living."