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Jeffery Luke’s heart was beating 200 times per minute as he lay in a hospital bed, waiting as doctors prepared to stop and restart his heart in an attempt to save his life.
Luke, who was diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF) in October, never expected his heart to fail at age 53 with his high school-aged son at his bedside, he said.
But after an emergency procedure at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center last fall, his heart function was restored to 100 percent.
“Before the surgery, I’d be pushing the wheelbarrow up the lawn, out of breath, lying in the backyard thinking, ‘Good Lord I’m getting old,’” Pfafftown resident Luke said. “Four to five days post-surgery, I felt like a million bucks. It’s the best I’ve felt in forever.”
Luke had been experiencing symptoms, like shortness of breath and fatigue, for about a year and a half, but hadn’t been to the doctor since his ninth-grade physical, he said.
He lived an active life — kayaking, fishing, gardening, chopping wood to heat his home and working in construction.
But as he sat in the movie theater with his 17-year-old son, John Paul, six months ago he knew something was wrong, he said.
Luke drove himself to the hospital where it was discovered his heart was enlarged and he was diagnosed with CHF.
“I was 220 pounds when I went in and I was 188 pounds when I came out just because of the amount of fluid build-up around my heart,” Luke said. “I knew right after the surgery, instantly, that they had fixed it. I felt like I could walk 10 miles.”
In an awake-procedure, doctors checked to make sure Luke didn’t have a blockage and concluded his CHF was caused by an arrhythmia, or an abnormal heart rhythm.
Luke then received a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy harmful tissue, which helped fix the heart rhythm, said Dr. Olivia Gilbert, Luke’s heart failure cardiologist at Novant Health Forsyth Heart and Wellness.
“Think of the heart like a muscle. It can get tired just like any other muscle,” said Dr. Olivia Gilbert, cardiologist at Novant Health Forsyth Heart and Wellness. “If it’s beating too fast for a prolonged time, it essentially gets tired, which is what happened in his case.”
More than 5 million people in the U.S. have heart failure, representing a rapidly growing problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
CHF often comes with the symptoms of shortness of breath, because the heart isn’t able to pump enough blood, Gilbert said, along with swelling of the legs, having trouble lying flat at night, lightheadedness and extra heartbeats.
While heart failure cases vary a lot, some of them are reversible, including those caused by pregnancy or coronary artery disease, Gilbert said.
Luke’s case was caused by a heart rhythm disturbance that, once treated, allowed the heart failure to dissipate.
“Heart failure is increasing in frequency in our country and is increasingly relevant with the obesity epidemic,” Gilbert said. “I think (Luke is) a good example that not all heart failure patients are people who are older with multiple chronic diseases.”
After the cardiac ablation, Luke said his heart went into rhythm instantaneously, which doctors told him could take up to six months to happen.
“I wasn’t so much afraid of dying as I was of living with a heart condition, but now my heart’s working at 100 percent,” Luke said. “The doctor said it was the most perfect surgery he had ever done. He’s my hero. He saved my life.”
Luke was only out of work for two weeks and last Friday spent the day digging 42 holes for fence posts without issue. He’s back to his active routine and has added a mile of walking every day.
Luke said the experience has made him more cognizant of his health and has given him a second chance at life.
“Everybody’s been wonderful, that’s the best part, aside from feeling better,” Luke said. “My business partner, my ex-wife, my son, my doctors, my family and friends — I’m lucky to have them.”
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