When Rick Randels walked into Tucson Medical Center, the 45-year-old construction worker showed up for a heart test with bad habits and a pack of smokes in his shirt pocket.
Now, 15 years later, he returns to TMC to assure new heart patients that healthy lifestyle changes and the hospital’s cardiac rehabilitation program can help ensure a better outcome.
Back in 1998, that Friday test led to a Monday quintuple bypass. He was back to work in eight days.
But within a few months, between hereditary factors and smoking, a few of the bypasses began to clog.
“That’s when I really got serious about TMC’s cardiac rehab program and realized it’s not a joke. It’s the real thing and I needed it badly.”
He started on an exercise regimen and stuck with it.
About a year later, he saw the effects of his dedication during a followup angiogram. One of his bypasses had developed a 75 percent blockage. But he watched on screen as the dye hit the blockage and ran through collateral veins that had been created on either side of the obstruction. “Had I not been doing the cardiac rehab on a good, strong regular basis, my body could never have done that,” he said. “My cardiologist was pretty impressed by that. He told me, ‘Whatever you’re doing over there, keep doing it.”
Five years later, seemingly in the best shape of his life, he didn’t feel quite right on a hunting trip to New Mexico. Upon his return, after unloading the truck and the ice chest, he thought he had pulled a muscle. Then came the classic signs–pressure in his chest and the discomfort in his jaw. He chewed an aspirin as his wife called 911.
Randels was rushed to the hospital. One moment he was watching the screen in the cath lab as the team of doctors looked for blockages, and the next thing he knew, he heard a voice calling his name. The voice then told him he was going to be very sore for a few days.
He had gone into cardiac arrest. Doctors had been performing chest compressions for 20 minutes. His chest was burned after sustaining at least six shocks to restart his heart activity.
This time, he ended up with a quadruple bypass.
“It’s been 10 years since that one, and in the cardiac rehab program, I’m working as hard as I can to prevent that third surgery,” he said.
Randels said there are many reasons, from the caring staff to the supervision and equipment, that have kept him coming back for 15 years.
“The people are so caring, and I’ve made such good friends there, that I don’t know what I would do without it,” he said.
“The only reason I was able to survive the code I went through and the second open heart surgery, was because of the cardiac rehab program at TMC. I am convinced of it.”
Staff has helped him develop an effective workout plan to make sure he sees continued progress. He has also taken the monthly courses on everything from well-balanced diets and nutrition, to how to read labels and how to manage stress. “It changes your lifestyle,” he said.
Like several others in the program, he volunteers at TMC to offer hope to new cardiac patients and share his experience following surgery.
“I just try to let them know that I’m 15 years past my first one and I’m doing ok! I can still get out there and give it a full day.”
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