Dexter Wilson, Heart Failure Clinic Patient

Dexter Wilson - Prudenville, MI

"The people at the Clinic keep us really well informed. Anytime I've asked them a question, I get a clear answer. They're down to earth and give me details in terms that I can understand."

Working Hard to Keep His Heart Healthy

While Dexter Wilson did not know he had a heart problem, his wife suspected something was wrong. "I knew something wasn't right and I kept telling him he needed to see a doctor," Dexter's wife, Marcia, said. "He played golf once a week and that was it. He wouldn't ride his bike with me, he used the riding lawn mower and he just sat around."

"I napped a lot and I was cold all the time," 73-year-old Dexter conceded. "It came over me gradually and I figured it was because I'm getting older."

At the end of last summer, Dexter started having chest pains and ended up at MyMichigan Medical Center Midland. Five days later, Dexter underwent triple bypass surgery. Days later, a pacemaker and defibrillator were implanted. He spent a total of 12 days in the intensive care unit at the Medical Center.

Although several weeks of cardiac rehab helped Dexter regain some strength and endurance, he still wasn't his old self.

On December 1, Dexter and Marcia were back at the Medical Center where almost 10 pounds of fluid that had accumulated around his lower abdomen and lungs were drawn off. At the end of this visit, the Wilsons were referred to MyMichigan Health's Heart Failure Clinic.

The Heart Failure Clinic was developed in collaboration with the University of Michigan Health System and is based on best practices for treating patients suffering from chronic congestive heart failure. The program is designed to assist patients in monitoring responses to treatment, modifying behaviors, adjusting medications, coordinating care with their cardiologist and primary care provider and facilitating referrals for advanced heart failure treatments.

The Wilsons worked with Family Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Dankers, M.S.N., F.N.P.-B.C., and Reina Weidman, R.N. The two provided counseling about diet and exercise, and worked with Dexter to find the optimal medication for his particular condition. "They still call every three weeks or so and check on things," he said.

In Dexter's case, to keep his heart healthy and to avoid the problem of fluid buildup, they advised him to get regular exercise, keep his weight within a prescribed range and eat a very low sodium diet.

Drastically reducing sodium from a traditional diet is difficult, but in Dexter's case, it was essential. "Learning how to cook without salt was like starting all over," Marcia said. "At first, it was a bit overwhelming, but it's been 10 months, and we're more comfortable now." Out of necessity, she has become more creative with cuisine. "I make my own trail mix and soy sauce, and I look online for ideas. It may be more work, but it's worth it to keep my husband around."

Dexter admits that breaking the salt habit was hard. "If it wasn't for Marcia, I don't know that I could follow the diet. She did 99 percent of the work to get me where I am," he said. "She went above and beyond to make things taste good on a very strict low sodium diet. She is a huge factor in my success."

The Wilsons now eat most meals at home and when they dine out, they ask a lot of questions. "If we're getting a hamburger, we'll ask for no seasonings at all and most places will accommodate us," Marcia said. "We have learned to speak up and ask for what we need."

Aside from the challenges of low-sodium eating, Marcia finds it reassuring that the people at the Heart Failure Clinic are always available to answer questions and provide direction. "They have been a life saver for me," she said. "We have a support line to call when we have questions. I love the security of knowing someone will call back quickly. They know their patients and they know when it’s urgent. Having that security is important."

Dexter agreed. "The people at the Clinic keep us really well informed," he said. "Anytime I've asked them a question, I get a clear answer. They're down to earth and give me details in terms that I can understand."

Dexter takes their advice and works hard at keeping his heart healthy. "Before I left the Intensive Care Unit back in September, I remember taking a short walk down the hallway and it wore me out," he said. "I said to myself 'this is not the life for me' and I decided then and there that I would do what I needed to do to get back to the life I wanted."

The couple's efforts have paid off. "We're always busy now. We ride bikes and golf and he putts around the house like he used to," Marcia said. "I feel better now than I did three years ago," Dexter added. "I didn't realize how much I was slowing down. It took a while, but I've improved 100 percent."

Despite the challenges, Dexter and Marcia are committed to living a healthy lifestyle and are very grateful for the guidance provided by the people at the Heart Failure Clinic. "They really care," Marcia said. "They're not just doing a job, they are there because they care. I don't know what I'd do without them."

MyMichigan Health offers a full array of heart and vascular services, including open heart surgery, vascular surgery, electrophysiology for heart rhythm problems and advanced interventional procedures. For additional information about heart failure or MyMichigan’s Heart Failure Clinic, visit www.mymichigan.org/heartfailure.

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