ELIZABETHTOWN — Like too many others, Chris Gumlaw ignored early warning signs, among them burning sensations in his chest when he exerted himself.
“I thought at first it was heartburn,” he said.
He also had some minor vision issues and sweating.
Gumlaw, 42, is on the maintenance staff at Elizabethtown Community Hospital; he assumed his symptoms had to do with occasional exertion on the job.
But he saw a physician’s assistant, who suggested he consult a doctor.
He did, but not for the chest discomfort — for what turned out to be a simple rash on his leg.
Dr. Mary Glickman took care of that and, at a followup visit, prescribed medication for the heartburn symptoms Gumlaw mentioned that day.
But just to be on the safe side, though, she set up a stress test for him.
At her specialty cardiac clinic at ECH, cardiologist Dr. Seema Lodha performed Gumlaw’s stress test on May 31.
She was incredibly concerned about what she was seeing on Gumlaw’s EKG printout.
So the physician told him to take it easy and visit her office first thing the following Monday.
Over the course of the next few days, Lodha consulted with physicians at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington about Gumlaw’s condition. It was discovered that he is diabetic and that his veins are somewhat small, making stent placement to remove blockage impossible.
On June 6, he underwent double-bypass heart surgery.
“Everyone at ECH becomes incredibly concerned when medical issues happen to one of our own employees,” ECH Chief Operating Officer Matt Nolan.
“Our clinical staff is proud to be able to help, but it also makes everyone very worried because we understand the severity of the situation.
“We knew that Chris was really in trouble.”
But the surgery went well, and then Gumlaw enrolled in ECH’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.
“He has a key physical job, so we specialized his training plan to accommodate his needs,” Licensed Practical Nurse Kristen Dooley said.
“We worked to strengthen the muscles around his heart.”
On July 8, Gumlaw returned to work on light duty.
“I’ve changed a lot,” he said in a recent interview. “I exercise. I quit smoking — I was smoking as much as two packs a day.”
He shed about 20 pounds and greatly improved his eating habits.
“I also have started eating a lot of fruit, which before I didn’t eat at all,” Gumlaw said. “No more drinking 12 cans of Mountain Dew a day with all that sugar.”
ECH Registered Nurse Meredith King noticed the effect Gumlaw had on his co-workers.
“They are also eating more healthy foods.”
“What’s interesting is that Chris had been having symptoms, but initially ignored them,” King observed. “It’s important to go to a primary care provider on a regular basis.
“Otherwise, he had excellent endurance because of his (outdoor) lifestyle, such as hunting.”
“Telling his story allows ECH to communicate the importance of primary care,” hospital Director of Community Relations Jane Hooper said, “and the importance of not ignoring the warning signs.
“We are thrilled that Chris is doing well.”
ECH, she said, “also believes that people should have easy access to specialists. This allowed Chris to quickly access the specialty care he needed after his visit with his primary care physician.”
BACK TO WORK
Gumlaw has supplemented his cardio-rehab by working out on his own. He said he walks a mile or more each day or uses the treadmill he purchased to support his self-care effort.
His determination has paid off.
“I went back to work two months before I was supposed to, but still had cardio-rehab,” he said. “Actually, cardio-rehab is a lot of fun.”
Surviving such a close call, Gumlaw has some advice for others.
“See your doctor on a regular basis,” he said. “I work at a hospital and had been a first responder, so I should have known better.”
King kidded Gumlaw.
“We nurses network. He can’t get away with anything with us.”
Gumlaw still has a few limitations.
“I can’t kayak as of now, but maybe next year,” he said.
Email Alvin Reiner: firstname.lastname@example.org