Editor’s Note: February is American Heart Month. Each Thursday throughout the month, the Clinton Herald will publish feature stories about those who have survived cardiac events as well as ways that readers can improve their own cardiovascular health. This is the second story in our series.

CLINTON — Just a few weeks after his Dec. 12 hip replacement surgery, Bob Miller of Fulton, Illinois was on his way to a full recovery.

He had been going to physical therapy sessions three times a week at Rock Valley Physical Therapy in Clinton. But while at a regularly scheduled session during his final week of therapy, his physical therapist noticed something wasn’t right. Miller, who is 56, was breathing heavily doing exercises that during his previous appointments had not provoked it.

During that Wednesday session on Jan. 16, Miller’s physical therapist, Jason Tampir, told him to seek medical treatment for his breathing symptoms.

“I thought maybe I was just out of shape,” Miller said of the causes running through his mind as he continued to feel short of breath. “I felt like wasn’t getting enough air. I was thinking maybe pneumonia.”

He also cleaned out the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) mask he uses, thinking maybe its air flow was blocked. He also set up a doctor’s appointment for the following Wednesday, Jan. 23. Until then, he said, he would just tough it out.

And so, two days after he made his appointment, Miller was back at Rock Valley to do another round of physical therapy. With breathing symptoms more prevalent and his lower legs feeling tight, Tampir urged Miller to take action.

“He told me to get to a doctor right away,” Miller recalled Tuesday during an interview with the Clinton Herald.

He called Clinton’s Community Health Care to see his medical care provider that day. His appointment was at noon; by 1 p.m. he was at MercyOne-Clinton Medical Center. A chest X-ray was taken and, within 20 minutes of that, cardiologist Dr. Saadi Albaghdadi and cardiac staff members were called back in to treat Miller.

It didn’t take long for Miller, a 35-year employee with the 3M plant in Cordova, Illinois who also serves on the company’s first-responder team, to know he had a serious problem. His blood’s oxygen levels came in at 82 percent. Even after he was given oxygen, his level rose to only 90 percent, he said.

“I had no idea how serious it was,” Miller said of the pulmonary embolism that the cardiac team was just discovering and which was threatening his life.

A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot breaks free from a vein wall, travels to the lungs and blocks some or all of the blood supply, according to the American Heart Association. Miller said his lungs were full on both sides as a result of his pulmonary embolism, which explained why he couldn’t get enough air into his lungs.

He was taken to MercyOne’s cardiac cath lab, where an EKOS procedure was carried out. During that treatment, a catheter is inserted into the groin, and directed up through blood vessels and into the lungs. Clot-dissolving medication is delivered through the catheter while ultrasound energy is used to dislodge and loosen the embolism.

Miller’s hospital stay came in at three days and two nights. He is now doing very well and even returned to work last week.

He takes Xarelto, an oral anticoagulant, and will be on that medication for at least three months. Because his pulmonary embolism was attributed to his surgery, he may not have to be on the medication for any longer than that, he said.

He now is looking forward to warmer weather so he can get out, be more active and focus on wellness.

He also learned an important lesson, he said: “I’m learning not to be so damned stubborn.”

Next week: Read our story about a local patient who went into cardiac arrest while being transported by car to the hospital. MercyOne’s emergency room staff did CPR on him outside of the hospital – and while he was still in the car – until he could be brought into the emergency room.

What is venous thromboembolism?

Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a blood clot that starts in a vein. It is the third leading vascular diagnosis after heart attack and stroke, affecting 300,000 to 600,000 Americans each year. There are two types:

- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a clot in a deep vein, usually in the leg, but sometimes in the arm or other veins.

- Pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when a DVT clot breaks free from a vein wall, travels to the lungs and blocks some or all of the blood supply. Blood clots in the thigh are more likely to break off and travel to the lungs than blood clots in the lower leg or other parts of the body.

What is the cause?

DVTs form in the legs when something slows or changes the flow of blood. The most common triggers for DVT and PE are surgery, cancer, immobilization and hospitalization. In women, pregnancy and use of hormones like oral contraceptives or estrogen for menopause symptoms are also important.

Clotting is more likely to happen in people who are older, are obese or overweight or have conditions such as cancer or autoimmune disorders. It’s also more likely in people whose blood is thicker than normal because too many blood cells are made by bone marrow. Genetic causes of excessive blood clotting are also important. These occur when there are changes in the genetic code of some proteins needed for clotting or proteins that work to naturally dissolve blood clots in the body.

VTE is most common in adults 60 and older, but can occur at any age. VTE is rare in children.

Source: American Heart Association