Read Patient Stories

Read Real-Life Patient Stories from People With Heart Disease

These inspiring patient stories teach important lessons about managing heart health for a longer, happier life.

Helene’s Story

Helene S., the area’s first Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement patient
Helene S., the area’s first Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement patient

At age 87, Helene still ran the resort she owned with boundless energy— despite having a heart flutter (atrial fibrillation) since childhood—until a new heart valve problem began sapping her strength.

It wasn’t obvious she had a new heart issue until her doctor recognized that extreme fatigue was a sign of heart disease in women. It’s one of the less obvious signs of heart disease that women sometimes experience instead of more recognizable symptoms like chest pain.

Helene was checked out by the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team. She was diagnosed with a heart valve that wasn’t closing properly, a condition that gave her mere months to live.

Helene and her doctors agreed that, at her age and with multiple heart issues, she wasn’t a good candidate for open-heart surgery. It would have been a risky major surgery followed by six months of recovery, so the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Heart Care heart care team suggested a new solution not previously available in the region called TAVR.

That’s how Helene became the area’s first recipient of the minimally invasive TAVR procedure in April of 2012. Using a catheter inserted through a vein in her leg, Helene’s doctors replaced her heart valve from inside her heart, without a chest incision. “I was in the hospital for only two days. I never felt any pain, and I was back taking care of the lawn in just three weeks!”

Helene not only outlived her original prognosis: she’s back enjoying all the things she enjoys in her busy life.


Rod’s Story

Rod’s pacemaker helped reveal a blockage in his blood vessel.
Rod’s pacemaker helped reveal a blockage in his blood vessel.

Rod was carrying a load of shingles up a ladder when he felt tightness in his chest. He convinced himself it wasn’t serious. He was wrong.

Fortunately, Rod’s pacemaker (which controls a condition called syncope) had recorded the event, leading to further tests. They revealed a blockage in a blood vessel putting him in danger of having an actual heart attack. It was in a tricky place, so a stent wouldn’t work. He needed open heart surgery.

Rod went online to check out his doctors. “I quickly realized I was in good hands but I really knew I was in the right place because my surgeon, Dr. Lee, went the extra mile. He talked with me and my family for an hour and a half, making sure we knew every detail and what to expect,” he said.

After a successful surgery at Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital in Weston, Rod became a big believer in the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team’s rehabilitation program. He learned to exercise more and eat better.

As for being in denial that day on the ladder, he hopes others learn from his mistake. “I was lucky and beat a heart attack before it happened,” he says. “Get checked. It’s cheap insurance.”


Betty’s Story

Getting a physical, then having the courage to speak up…saved my life.
A routine EKG showed potential heart problems.

In hindsight, the signs were there.

Betty didn’t know that the occasional fatigue and nausea she felt were probably symptoms of heart disease. She didn’t have any of the classic signs and didn’t know the more subtle symptoms common to women. Besides, they were there one day and gone the next.

Fortunately, a routine EKG in preparation for unrelated medical procedures discovered evidence of her hidden heart problems. Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team doctors diagnosed Betty with atrial fibrillation and an 81% blockage of an artery supplying blood to her heart muscle. The other procedures were delayed while she received treatment for these serious conditions.

The blockage in Betty’s heart was quickly opened up with a stent implanted via a catheter-based procedure and she now follows a heart healthy diet and exercise program to prevent further blockages. The a-fib was brought under control through medications.

Today, Betty has dedicated herself to improving her health and being heart smart. She knows more about the causes and signs of heart disease in women and the importance of diet and exercise. With her treatment concluded, Betty has continued to exercise at the rehabilitation center in Weston on her own, becoming an inspiration to others beginning their own rehab and recovery.


Steve’s Story

Getting a physical, then having the courage to speak up…saved my life.
Getting a physical, then having the courage to speak up…saved my life.

Steve’s annual physical was going well. His blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol numbers all looked good. There was no reason to think he wasn’t healthy.

Fortunately, Steve decided to share a nagging concern when his physician, Dr. Steven Brooks of Ministry Medical Group in Rhinelander, asked him if anything was new.

He’d recently felt a burning sensation—once while exercising (he’s a regular at the Y) and another time while traveling.

Dr. Brooks ordered a stress test. Steve’s heart didn’t collect enough dye for a good image, so Marshfield Clinic cardiologist Dr. Richard Reinhart was called in. Dr. Reinhart saw signs of a blockage and sent Steve to Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital in Weston.

There, Marshfield Clinic interventional cardiologist Dr. Rohit Shrivastava began a catheter-based procedure to find and open the blockage. What he found required a more serious approach: bypass surgery. Marshfield Clinic cardiovascular surgeon Dr. C.C. Lee performed surgical bypasses of six arteries, including one that was 99% blocked.

Steve rehabbed locally at Ministry Saint Mary’s in Rhinelander. Today, his health is good. His story shows the importance of good communication between doctor and patient, primary care providers and specialists, and clinical and surgical specialists.

That’s what happens when two leaders work together as one leading heart care team.


Take comfort in the certainty of heart care from the leading heart care team.

David’s Story – heart attack

David Sauer, Merrill, was treated for a heart attack by the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team.
David Sauer, Merrill, was treated for a heart attack by the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team.

“We’ve been married 54 years. My wife wants to get a few more out of me.”

David and his wife got in their car expecting to have dinner with their daughter.

They made it as far as the end of the driveway.

That’s when David suddenly slumped over, unconscious in his seat. His wife drove him to Ministry Good Samaritan Health Care Center’s emergency department, where he received CPR in the parking lot before being rushed inside. Soon, he was being airlifted to Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital for emergency heart surgery.

“They cooled me down while I was out,” he says, describing an advanced technique doctors used to reduce the likelihood of damage to his oxygen-deprived brain and other vital organs. “I was confused when I woke up, and everybody was concerned, but I started talking to my doctors and my family…well, I came back 100%. They called me a miracle man, to come out of it the way I did.’”

After a second operation to implant a pacemaker and steady rehab, David made a full recovery and is back to being active on his farm.

David’s story shows the benefits of two health care leaders working together to deliver advanced heart care.


Dale’s Story – severe heart disease, bypass surgery

Dale Evert is the Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital.
Dale Evert is the Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital.

“I was basically a heart attack waiting to happen.”

Dale thought he had acid reflux, but his doctor saw signs of something more serious. She sent him to the cath lab, where he learned that several of his arteries were at least 90% blocked.

“I was here because this is where I work, but also because this is the right place to be. Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care were seamless in the way they took care of me…the cooperation between the physicians and the nurses and the technicians…everything just went click, click, click to get me into surgery…There was this sense of, ‘you are very important and we are going to do everything we can to get this corrected for you as quickly as possible.’”

Dale was admitted to Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital on a Wednesday afternoon, had 5 bypasses, and went home the following Monday. Since his surgery, he’s made lifestyle changes to keep his heart healthy. He’s lost over 40 pounds, no longer has high blood pressure, and feels he’s healthier now than he’s been in 20 years.

Dale recently catered his own 40th wedding anniversary—a party attended by 80 people. He doubts he would have had the strength to do it without his bypass.

See Dale talk about his story.


Meda’s Story – coronary artery disease

Meda Heywood, Marshfield, was surprised to find herself as a person with heart disease.
Meda Heywood, Marshfield, was surprised to find herself as a person with heart disease.

“My motto now is to ‘keep fit for life,’ and I expect to have a long life.”

While hosting her mother-in-law’s 100th birthday party, Meda felt extremely fatigued. She thought she had the flu. Instead, she was surprised to learn that two arteries supplying blood to her heart had major blockages. Meda worked through the shocking news and put her faith in the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team.

“When I looked up the doctors’ credentials, I realized they had a tremendous amount of knowledge and skill. I settled into a comfortable state because I trusted the people that were helping me. I had worries, yes, but I did not have deep concerns because I knew I was in the most skilled hands.”

After successful treatment, Meda became determined to live a healthier lifestyle. Now, those changes have given her a shot at reaching the century mark herself.
Meda wants other women be aware of the dangers of heart disease.

“I want to educate as many women as I can to take care of themselves and to know they have a great team here they can rely on.”

See Meda talk about her story.


Robert’s Story – severe heart attack, Rescue 1

Robert Lass, Stevens Point, was treated for a very severe heart attack by the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team.
Robert Lass, Stevens Point, was treated for a very severe heart attack by the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team.

“Three percent of us actually survive the type of heart attack I had.”

Robert Lass had a very severe heart attack during a Northwoods fishing tournament. His heart stopped at the scene for the first of more than 20 times that day. After the Rescue 1 protocol was enacted, he was flown to Weston for advanced treatment by Marshfield Clinic heart specialists on staff at Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital.

A combination of circumstances and an extraordinary heart team helped him survive what could have been a deadly event.

“I made it through because I was lucky enough to have just caught a fish. Then, because my fishing partner knew CPR, because the first responder lived two blocks away, because the people on the helicopter crew kept my heart going…and because once we landed, I was in surgery in minutes. Had all that not happened, I would not be here today. I should not be here today. I was so, so lucky.”

Robert’s story shows the remarkable coordination of this leading team.

Getting needed heart care quickly is essential during a dangerous heart event. Count on the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team when it matters most.

See Robert talk about his story.


Dick’s Story – coronary artery disease

Dick Dutrisac splits his time between Minocqua and California.
Dick Dutrisac splits his time between Minocqua and California.

“I had no real symptoms, but my doctor saw something small on a routine test.”

A former UW-Madison basketball player, Dick eats right, exercises and doesn’t smoke. He had minor high blood pressure, but had no reason to suspect that a routine exam would lead to the discovery of five blocked arteries. His story proves that heart disease can strike anyone.

Dick’s career as a businessman in health care was helpful as he researched his options for heart surgery. Studying the credentials and records of his Marshfield Clinic cardiovascular surgeon and the safety record at Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital, made him certain he already had the right team.

“Once you’re faced with the situation…it’s satisfying to know with certainty that you have a good team behind you. This team offers outstanding care. I’m very happy with the results. My wife and I have now switched most of our medical care from California to here. For me, having such good care close to home is a real advantage. It’s a comfort.”

Dick’s research confirmed that the right heart care is right here.

See Dick talk about his story.


Susan’s Story – heart disease in women

Susan Nelson, Marshfield, suddenly found herself as a person with heart disease.
Susan Nelson, Marshfield, suddenly found herself as a person with heart disease.

“They gave me a feeling of trust while I was feeling helpless.”

Susan Nelson was bothered by aches in her legs, and later by a knot in her back. One day, she felt indigestion, nausea and fatigue, but it wasn’t until a co-worker noticed that her lips were blue that she went to Ministry Health Care’s Saint Joseph’s Hospital and received treatment from a Marshfield Clinic cardiologist.

“They found that my right coronary artery was completely closed…they were able to open it with a balloon. And the knot in my back went away, completely.” Three additional blockages required bypass surgery.

“I did have full trust in everything that they were doing. The doctor who was attending me…her face was right next to mine, so without my glasses I could see her and look into her eyes. Everyone looked at me, not past me, not reading off of a script or a piece of paper. They cared about me and I knew they were doing whatever they could to make me whole again.”

Susan’s story shows how heart disease is different in women.

The early signs of heart attacks in women are often overlooked. Fortunately for Susan, she placed her trust in the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team.

See Susan talk about her story.


Dian’s Story – atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, second opinions

Dian had atrial fibrillation with a blockage. She believes that choosing the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team saved her life.
Dian had atrial fibrillation with a blockage. She believes that choosing the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team saved her life.

“This team of cardiologists saved my life.”

Dian felt tired, nauseous and had been losing weight. With a trip to Japan coming up, she saw her family doctor. He identified atrial fibrillation and referred her to a big-city heart hospital. After many tests, she was told to go on her trip and come back again afterward. She was uncomfortable with that idea, so she took her records to Dr. Thomas Roy, a Marshfield Clinic cardiologist, for a second opinion. He saw signs of something more, a suspicion confirmed in the cath lab at Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital in Weston. Dian had a dangerous blockage of an important artery.

“Within minutes of coming through that front door, I was getting ready to get the procedure done. I said to my husband, ‘wow!’… I felt very certain that I was in the right hands.” Her blockage was quickly removed, and her heart’s rhythm was safely restored the next morning.

As for the trip to Japan, that’s postponed – but only for a while.

Heart disease is often misdiagnosed in women. Dian trusted her instincts and got a second opinion from the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team that may have saved her life.

See Dian talk about her story.


Gary’s Story – heart attack

Gary experienced signs of a heart attack while riding his bicycle.
Gary experienced signs of a heart attack while riding his bicycle.

“Trust that you are getting some of the best heart care that you can possibly get anyplace.”

Last fall, Gary was halfway through a 20-mile training sprint on his bicycle when he began to experience chest pains and nausea. His wife rushed him to Urgent Care at Marshfield Clinic Minocqua Center, and he was quickly transferred to Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital, where he underwent a complex triple-stent insertion.

A retired economist with a health care background, Gary has decades of experience in the health care field, including testifying before the United States Senate health subcommittee.

“I’m not a physician or a practitioner, but I’ve worked in health care for over 40 years. And I’ve worked with lots of physicians … I know the business. And so I’m quite aware of things like the proper protocols that you go through for things like cardiac stents and treating a suspected heart attack. It was just like clockwork. From what I observed…this care is as good as any in the entire country.”

Gary put his life in the hands of this leading team.

See Gary talk about his story.


Mike’s Story – cardiac arrest

Miracle Mike’s life was saved by the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team
Miracle Mike’s life was saved by the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team

A coach’s miracle victory

A man hands out muffins in the lobby of a hospital, laughing and talking. Upon his head is a baseball cap emblazoned with the name “Miracle Mike.” This man’s name is Mike Jelinek, and not long ago, he nearly lost his life.

Mike talked about the day he was rushed to Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital and says he can remember very little beyond feeling chest pain at the end of the workday. During the ambulance ride, Mike went into cardiac arrest and was given CPR and defibrillator shocks.

Upon his arrival, attempts to resuscitate Mike went on for more than 40 minutes. As medical staff began discussion of terminating resuscitation attempts, Mike finally began to show a pulse and was rushed to the cardiac catheterization room. Once there, he was given artery stents by members of the Marshfield Clinic/Ministry Health Care heart care team, and induced hypothermia to lessen the risk of brain damage.

After 24 hours of induced hypothermia, Mike was eased back into consciousness. After 11 days in the hospital he was discharged with no neurological defects. He was able to return to work just three months later.

During Mike’s time in the hospital, Ministry Medical Group’s Michael Clark, MD; and the Ministry Saint Clare’s staff and members of the heart team kept Bonnie Jelinek, Mike’s wife, informed every step of the way. The staff got to know Mike and affectionately began to call him “Miracle Mike.”

So now, as Dr. Clark gladly accepts a muffin from Mike and his wife, he is able to smile. Because Dr. Clark is grateful not only for the gift of this homemade muffin, he is grateful for the gift of life.