Todd Nordquist knows when he has found a world-class stone, like the rare, blood-red diamond he once found for a celebrity client. But the 50-year-old rare gemological and fine art investment dealer, who lived out West half his life, never imagined he’d find world-class care for his heart at St. Joseph’s Hospital in West Bend, the town where he grew up.
Todd had been treated at some of the most renowned medical centers in the country. In 1996, hospitalized in Arizona, he was diagnosed with sick sinus syndrome, an array of heart rhythm disorders that explained his history of fainting spells. Todd received the first of what would be four pacemakers.
“I was sidetracked,” said Todd, who had always been active. “I had played A-level tennis and golf and loved to bike throughout the canal system of Phoenix.”
By 2005, Todd, then living in California, faced a life-threatening situation when he developed a rare hospital-related infection after his pacemaker failed and its leads broke suddenly within his chest. It was a terrible experience, Todd said. His chest was cut open and he was hospitalized for a month. When Todd moved back to West Bend a few years later, he wasn’t feeling well, and the memories of his previous hospital experiences still stung.
Todd saw Marcie Berger, MD, electrophysiologist and MCW faculty member, at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The echocardiogram and chest CT (computed tomography) she ordered at the hospital in January 2011 were both abnormal; Todd had a leaky heart valve that needed monitoring.
“When she called me later, I’ll never forget it,” Todd said. “I didn’t understand why she was calling me. She said, ‘I was going over your records. I’m just not satisfied with your valve.’”
Dr. Berger called in cardiologist and MCW faculty member James Kleczka, MD, also at the Specialty Clinics. “Todd was having trouble breathing, had chest pain and fatigue,” Dr. Kleczka said. “The echocardiogram showed Todd’s valve was leaking and the right side of his heart was failing. He was a young guy with heart failure symptoms and right side failure. We wanted to get on top of this.”
Dr. Kleczka diagnosed Todd with severe tricuspid regurgitation, or leakage. Part of Todd’s tricuspid valve, which controls blood flow between the heart’s two right-side chambers, was missing. That allowed blood to flow dangerously backward from the lower ventricle to the upper atrium. The damage could have been caused by either a congenital condition or his previous infection in 2005, doctors said.
To get a more complete picture of Todd’s heart before surgery, Dr. Kleczka performed a cardiac catheterization at Froedtert Hospital. In April 2011, Todd underwent surgery at Froedtert Hospital to repair his tricuspid valve and implant a new pacemaker system.
Todd credits Dr. Berger’s “dogged determination” for saving his life, and he wants others to know there is hope and help.
“I honestly didn’t think I would get this kind of care here, " Todd said. "I was overwhelmingly surprised and pleased. These people are really world-class. They were astute professionals, intelligent, compassionate and empathetic. If it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t be alive.”
After the surgery, Todd joined the cardiac rehabilitation program at St. Joseph’s Hospital. He focused on eating right and losing weight. By spring 2012 he was ready to do even more.
“I was walking up to seven miles at the Badger Middle School track,” Todd said. “There was a time I couldn’t jog a quarter of a quarter-mile track. Now I’m jogging and doing cardio and weights. I feel fantastic.”
“The classes we teach change people’s lives,” said Mattie Egge, who leads the cardiac rehabilitation program. The program involves exercise and education and addresses heart disease’s emotional as well as physical components. Her staff is proud of how far Todd has come. “When Todd walked in here the other day, he put a big smile on all our faces,” she said.
Doctors say the right side of Todd’s heart has shrunk from its enlarged state and is now squeezing normally. Todd is being followed annually by Dr. Berger and Dr. Kleczka and continues to see his long-time primary care physician, Andrew Knoernschild, MD, family medicine physician, at the Froedtert & MCW Germantown Health Center.