Jim’s Story: Living With Congestive Heart Failure

Jim Apple knew something was wrong. Though he was 76, he led an active lifestyle outdoors, from hunting grouse in the rugged wilds of Montana to doing yard work around the house. He had never lacked energy before, but all of that suddenly changed.

In October 2015, Jim had begun clearing debris and spreading topsoil over an area where a tree had been cut down on his property. But he discovered that he barely had the strength to even stand for more than five minutes at a time.

He immediately called his daughter, Jacquelyn, a nurse at Upper Valley Medical Center (UVMC). She advised him to call his family doctor as soon as possible. Taking her advice, he was referred to William Czajka, MD, a cardiologist with Premier Cardiovascular Institute.

Dr. Czajka recommended an electrocardiogram (EKG) and a stress test. The tests revealed that Jim’s heart’s ejection fraction rate – an important measure of how well the heart pumps blood – was dangerously low. Dr. Czajka had to break the news to Jim that his heart was failing. 

“Learning that I was in the midst of congestive heart failure was quite a shock,” Jim said. 

Dr. Czajka referred Jim to cardiologist Sukirtharan Sinnathamby, MD, who admitted him to the hospital for closer evaluation.

Dr. Sinnathamby adjusted Jim’s medications and suggested lifestyle changes. He also provided Jim with a LifeVest wearable defibrillator, which monitored his heart activity and helped prevent sudden cardiac arrest.

“Dr. Sinnathamby told me that if all went well they could eventually implant a defibrillator and pacemaker,” Jim said. “But first, he wanted me to begin preparing my body by exercising.”

Jim was referred to UVMC’s cardiac rehabilitation program, but soon discovered that getting started was easier said than done.

“I remember Jim’s first day,” said Tami McMillan, RN, UVMC’s director of cardiac rehabilitation. “He had to take a golf cart almost all the way from his car to the front door. He was quiet and had very little energy.”

Jim, however, remained committed to cardiac rehabilitation and nearly completed the first phase of a three-part exercise regimen before undergoing his awaited surgery – just three months after he began wearing the LifeVest. His commitment to exercise didn’t end after surgery, and he was soon back at UVMC to continue his cardiac rehabilitation. 

“I got back at it as soon as I could,” Jim said. “I’ve continued going there for over a year for three days each week. You get the opportunity to meet a lot of people there who have gone through similar things, and the nurses are just super. They take your vitals when you start and finish, which allows you to see how you’re progressing. I’ve considered other fitness centers, but none of them has ever measured up to UVMC.”

Best of all, Jim’s new pacemaker has taken his ejection fraction rate to a healthy level. Jim’s rediscovered energy has even allowed him to spend more time outdoors, doing the things he loves best.

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Every moment of your life depends on a strong, healthy heart. The Premier Health cardiology and vascular services team is here to help you, each beat of the way, with prevention, diagnostic, treatment, and rehabilitation services in our hospitals, outpatient centers, and medical offices across Southwest Ohio.