Community Memorial

Cardiac Care Patient Story

No Fish Tale: Menomonee Falls man lives to fish another day after first-rate cardiac care

Dick Nowak imageDick Nowak of Menomonee Falls hadn't been feeling well for days. He had experienced chest pains the week before, and the previous day's work lifting heavy masonry had left him completely drained. At 3 o'clock in the morning of his 68th birthday, he woke up coughing. He kept on coughing.

"Finally around 8 o'clock, I called my son and asked him to take me to the hospital," Dick said. "Instead, he called 911. That was probably a good idea."

At Community Memorial Hospital, an ultrasound procedure led to a startling discovery: Dick had a ventricular septal rupture — a hole ripped in the central wall of his heart.

"When I listened to his heart, I could hear the rupture," said Richard Wakefield, MD, cardiologist. "I knew then that he was in big trouble."

Physicians later pieced together what had happened. Dick had suffered a heart attack several days earlier. The attack cut off the blood to the bottom part of his heart, including the ventricular septum, the wall that separates the heart's two lower chambers. Normally, during the first 24 hours, the damage heals enough to protect the septum. In Dick's case, that didn't happen. The continued blockage caused the tissue to weaken, die and finally rupture. Dick's early-morning coughing spell was caused by blood backing up into his lungs as his heart began to fail.

"When he came to the Emergency Department he was heading into shock," Dr. Wakefield said, "which can be fatal."

Dr. Wakefield performed an emergency angiogram and inserted a balloon pump to help maintain his blood pressure. Then, Curtis Quinn, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon, was preparing to repair the damage to Dick's heart when he discovered the situation was worse than expected.

"Normally a rupture is a small hole in the septum," Dr. Quinn said. "In Dick's case, so much of the muscle had died that the septum had actually separated from the back of the heart."

The challenge, Dr. Quinn said, was repairing the weakened septal tissue in a way that could withstand the strong blood pressure of the beating heart. Dr. Quinn compared the procedure to rebuilding a house with a crumbled foundation. Dr. Quinn and the surgical team successfully repaired Dick's heart anatomy and re-established normal heart circulation.

Following his surgery, Dick received extended care for conditions related to his heart attack and then entered Community Memorial's Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. In a matter of weeks he went from light, seated exercises to easy walking routines to treadmill work. By the time he left, he could exercise for 40 minutes without stopping, and his blood pressure, heart rate and heart rhythm were perfect.

Today, Dick says he feels good, and is still busy helping his son run their family business of installing and servicing beverage equipment. Dick is grateful to the heart team at Community Memorial Hospital.

"I owe a lot to all the doctors and nurses," he said. "I got very good care, and I felt I was always in good hands."

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