There are a number of people in Jerry Clark's life who rely on him. But there are also four creatures weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds each that count on Jerry for their care. These heavyweights are his herd of show cattle, including two cows and two bull calves.
"I need to work the cattle by getting them to different pastures, feeding the herd, vaccinating, preparing for shows and so forth," says Jerry, a 72-year-old Kansas City, Kansas, resident who grew up on a cattle ranch, but made a career in the reinsurance business. Now retired, he is back to raising cattle.
But Jerry might have trouble handling his herd - as well as other facets of his life - if he let his heart condition go untreated. His heart troubles first surfaced years ago while he was in college. "I was working for the railroad during the summer and got laid off because the doctors detected a heart murmur. So in 1960 at age 22, I had open heart surgery. It served me well for 39 years."
Then in 1999, he needed surgery again. "This time, I used Cleveland Clinic," he says. "My brother-in-law, who's an internist, said that since this was a redo of an old operation, I should go someplace specializing in difficult cases. That's why I went all the way to Cleveland, where surgeons performed one bypass and replaced the aortic valve and ascending aorta. Everything went well and the total experience was great."
After his surgery at Cleveland Clinic, Jerry was healthy again for a number of years. That is, until several months ago when he went for a pre-operative exam in preparation for rotator cuff surgery. "I thought the exam was a waste of time, but it wasn't," he says. "Although I had no symptoms, they detected a problem when doing a routine EKG and subsequent EKGs."
Getting back in sync
EKG stands for electrocardiogram, which is a picture of the electrical impulses traveling through your heart muscle, as recorded by electrodes attached to your chest, arms and legs. Jerry's EKGs showed that he had an abnormal heartbeat, which is called arrhythmia.
Arrhythmia occurs when the heart's electrical system gets out of sync, causing the heart to beat erratically. Sometimes medications can resolve the problem, but in Jerry's case, a more aggressive approach was needed. His local cardiologist and family medicine physician recommended that Jerry undergo an invasive procedure called ablation.
During ablation, one or more thin tubes called catheters are threaded through your blood vessels to your inner heart. Electrodes on the catheters' tips destroy (ablate) the areas of your heart that your doctor thinks are the source of your arrhythmia.
"Since an ablation is a pretty serious treatment, I again talked about it with my internist brother-in-law," says Jerry. "He thought a cardioversion, which is less invasive, would be more appropriate. My wife, Mary Lynn, also thought I ought to have a cardioversion instead."
During electrical cardioversion, patients receive a short-acting anesthesia. Then the chest wall is given an electrical shock that synchronizes the heart and restarts a normal rhythm. The procedure is much less invasive than an ablation.
Seeking peace of mind
Based on his brother-in-law's counsel, Jerry sent his medical records to Cleveland Clinic to seek advice. He used Cleveland Clinic's MyConsult® Online Medical Second Opinion program, which is a sophisticated, Web-based extension of Cleveland Clinic's 90-plus-year role as one of America's most respected referral institutions.
Without having to leave Kansas City, Jerry was able to access the secure, online second opinion program from his home computer. In addition to heart problems, MyConsult provides online medical second opinions from Cleveland Clinic specialists for more than 1,200 life-threatening and life-altering diagnoses.
"What I found out from Cleveland Clinic is that an ablation wasn't the first treatment of choice," says Jerry, who received his medical second opinion from cardiologist Patrick Tchou, MD. "The staff there was very helpful and very responsive. I value their second opinion because it matched what I believed in. It gave me peace of mind."
"My brother-in-law liked the report that Cleveland Clinic gave me," he adds. "I shared it with my local doctors, and after discussion, they concurred to try the cardioversion first."
Surprisingly, when Jerry went in to have the cardioversion done, a pre-procedure EKG showed that his hear arrhythmia had gone away on its own. "I was there in my hospital gown all set to go, and the doctor said, 'Put your shirt on and go home.' I was extra happy that I hadn't gone in for an ablation."
With his heart in proper rhythm, Jerry is back to tending to his cattle, playing golf and volunteering with the Rotary Youth Camp, which serves disabled and disadvantaged youth. His local Rotary Club 13 (the world's 13th oldest rotary club) is marking its 100th anniversary this year, and Jerry is involved in planning the celebration.
Besides the rotary club's centennial, Jerry has much to celebrate. Thanks to Cleveland Clinic and his hometown medical professionals, he is healthy and enjoying life fully. This is good news for his family, including wife, Mary Lynn; a son, 28, who is a tax attorney in Chicago, and a daughter, 25, who works for the University of Montana.
And the cattle? As long as Jerry is healthy, his cows are udderly happy, and the whole herd is in a good mooo-d.