Today is the fourth in a series of articles, published each Thursday, focusing on February’s American Heart Month.
MORRISON, Ill. -- It was a quiet Thursday night, about an hour after having dinner at a nearby restaurant, that Randy Betts began to notice something wasn’t quite right.
The 57-year-old thought the feeling of fullness in his chest was a result of eating too much. As the minutes ticked by, the sensation hadn’t cleared.
“I went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep and I started to feel worse,” he says of the events that unfolded Jan. 9. He decided to get up, take an aspirin and have a soft drink, something he thought would settle his stomach. It didn’t work, and instead he began to become even sicker.
“I started to think there was something going on in my chest,” he said. “I couldn’t get a full breath. It felt like someone was standing on my chest.”
By 11 p.m., Betts was in the emergency room at CGH Medical Center in Sterling, Ill., suspecting that he was having a heart attack. While he had never had heart issues in the past, his mother started having heart problems, attributed to deterioration of the heart muscle, in her late 50s. She had had 27 heart stents put in up until her death last year at the age of 75 as the result of a stroke.
It turned out his suspicion that he was having a heart attack was right, confirmed by heart tests and blood work.
But the news still took him by surprise. After all, he had just had medical tests prior to carpal tunnel surgery just one month earlier. A co-owner of a construction company, he was still off work recuperating from that surgery at the time of his heart attack.
“I couldn’t believe it. I felt great that morning,” he remembers.
But that night, he found himself undergoing a surgical procedure to put three stents in place. Within an hour, it was determined that a blood clot had appeared and he was back in surgery having a fourth stent placed.
He was in CGH’s ICU for 10 days and dealt with the need for a medication adjustment because he was unable to breathe well at night. Then a checkup shortly after his return home led to the discovery that his heart was fluttering, something he could not feel. A shock procedure was used to bring it back into rhythm.
While the past six weeks have been difficult, they have been life-changing, he said.
He began cardiac rehabilitation last week and will attend three times a week -- exercising on treadmills, stationary bicycles and other machines in six-minute cycles while being monitored. He says that while he always thought he was getting enough exercise on the job over the years, that was not true. He vows to continue exercising in the future.
He also has changed his diet, eliminating soft drinks and fat and increasing his fruit and vegetable intake. So far, he has lost 35 pounds with a goal to lose 18 more.
And his 30-year smoking habit? That also is gone. That change came just weeks after he gave up alcohol because of possible negative reactions if mixed with his carpal tunnel medications.
His goal now is to build up his strength and get back into the swing of life. A 28-year firefighter, Wednesday night he attended his first monthly fire department meeting since having his heart attack.
He also hopes his story inspires others to give up habits that have a negative health effect, start exercising to strengthen their hearts and eat a better diet for heart health.
And he is thankful he has a second chance at life.
“This was my wake-up call,” he said.