Randy Iverson speaks of his unexpected heart attack

Randy Inverson
Randy Iverson receives care at Winneshiek Medical Center Cardiac Rehabilitation.

Randy Iverson remembers the details of the fall morning: it had snowed, the first snowfall of the year.  School was delayed two hours, so he stepped outside to begin shoveling the driveway.  The three inches of moisture-laden snow were heavy, and he noticed the oak tree – still clinging to its leaves – was sagging with the weight; its branches reaching for the ground in the shape of a tepee.  It was amid this scene that Randy felt the first twinges of unrest in his chest.

Randy, a husband, father, middle school teacher and coach, was experiencing a heart attack.

“I felt my heart beating rapidly as I shoveled, which was odd because I am a runner,” says Randy.  “I finished shoveling and swept off my daughter’s car. Then the racing in my chest became pressure – not pain, just a heavy pressure, like someone was pushing down on me.”  Randy went in the house to rest and his thoughts drifted to his students.  “I thought, ‘What if something happens in front of them?’ and decided to call my doctor.”

“My doctor was not in the office yet, but his nurse suggested I go to the Emergency Room at Winneshiek Medical Center,” says Randy.  “Although I thought a trip to the ER was unnecessary, I took her advice.”  Randy was seen by Kent Svestka, M.D. Mayo Clinic Health System emergency medicine physician at Winneshiek Medical Center.  Randy says, “Dr. Svestka examined me and learned through blood tests that one of my enzymes was elevated.  It was enough to send me to Mayo Clinic by ambulance.”

Randy and his wife, Kari, along with his Mayo Clinic cardiologist decided an angiogram would be the best course of action, even though Randy was not a typical heart attack patient.  “I am in shape, don’t smoke, hardly ever drink and am 55-years old.  My cardiologist was perplexed by my symptoms compared to my physical health, so he thought it was best to just take a look with the angiogram test,” says Randy.

The angiogram revealed 80% blockage in one artery and 90% in another.  The cardiologist placed stents in Randy’s heart to re-open his arteries. “I returned home, began cardiac rehab at Winneshiek Medical Center, and took an honest look at my life,” says Randy.

“I had all these medications to take, a family to care for…and I had just had a heart attack!” says Randy.  “Kim, Shirley and Marie in cardiac rehab helped me understand how to handle the new reality of my life.”

Cardiac rehabilitation is a supervised exercise and education program to return cardiac patients to optimal health following a major cardiac event, such as bypass surgery, heart attack, stent placement and valve replacement.  Cardiac rehab plans depend on the individual needs of each patient, but typically run three times per week for one to three months.

The first cardiac rehab session found Randy walking on the treadmill for 10 minutes at  2.5 miles an hour.  Three months later, he was running 3 miles, with his top speed reaching 9 miles an hour.  “I re-learned how to stretch, use the machines, and push myself under the watchful eyes of the cardiac rehab staff,” says Randy.  “I looked forward to my sessions every other day – cardiac rehab became a personal challenge: how far could I push myself?”

Kim Wilmes, RN, a cardiac rehab nurse at Winneshiek Medical Center says, “When patients come to cardiac rehab, they have just experienced a major change in their lives and are generally anxious about what their bodies can handle.  During rehab, we monitor them inside out as they exercise: heart rate, blood pressure, heart rhythm, symptoms.  Patients can test their bodies without the fear of another heart attack occurring – they feel safe.”  Kim adds, “Cardiac rehab takes a serious issue and helps patients come to terms with it through safety, education and a light-hearted atmosphere.  We want patients to understand they are not alone in their questions, concerns and fears. Randy tells us he is in the best shape of his life, and I can believe it.  He worked incredibly hard to reach his goals.”

The lifestyle adjustments Randy made touched his entire family.  “After a heart attack, you’re only thinking of your heart problem, but your family has to live with you, with all the changes, all the medications.  It’s a lot to get used to and it’s tough,” says Randy.  “I went through a period when every twinge or pain in my chest would send my imagination running.  There are highs and lows, but it does get better – it gets easier.  That’s why I pushed myself during rehab.  I wanted to know what my heart can handle.”

“Some people don’t get a second chance,” says Randy.  “I was given the opportunity to consider what is truly important in life – my faith, my family – every morning I wake up thankful I have another day.”