Healthcare Services and Programs

As the number one killer of all Americans, heart and vascular disease affects many people on a very personal level – including our own OhioHealth associates.  Read our associates’ stories about how heart and vascular disease impacts their lives and why being an advocate for the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk is important to them.

A Family's Fight Against Heart Disease

It's a condition that often goes undetected but can have devastating effects.

It entered Meghan and Tyler Kocher's lives approximately 20 years ago when their seemingly healthy eight-year-old cousin Zach died while he was swimming. Tests revealed Zach suffered from long QT syndrome, a dangerous arrhythmia that can cause the heart to go into lethal ventricular fibrillation.

Several years later, Tyler was undergoing a routine sports physical when his doctor noticed something on his electrocardiogram. Further tests revealed Tyler also had long QT syndrome.

At the time, he was 12 and too young for an implantable defbrillator/pacemaker. So Tyler, who lived for sports, says he turned into a "couch potato. There really wasn't much I could do."

A year later, he became what is believed to have been the youngest patient in Ohio to receive an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator/pacemaker. And it was around this time Meghan was diagnosed with the same condition, after she fainted during a track meet.

Genetic testing revealed other family members also had long QT syndrome, including the siblings' mother and aunt, who was Zach's mother.

Their experiences led Tyler, 28, and Meghan, 25, to careers related to heart and vascular disease. Tyler is System Project Manager for OhioHealth Heart & Vascular Services and Meghan is a cardiovascular sonographer at the McConnell Heart Hospital. "I look at hearts all day."

Their brother Kyle is a nurse at the McConnell Heart Hospital, where he also cares for heart patients. He does not carry the genetic mutation that causes long QT syndrome, and he also participates in the walk.

Tyler and Meghan experienced problems with their devices and ultimately had them removed, preferring medical management. One of the reasons they walk is to help develop better treatments and technology. "Ours were implanted in the early stages, and they are still coming along an evolutionary curve," Tyler says.

Treatment today is more personalized, says Tyler, who praises his physicians for "thinking outside the box" when he approached them about having his device removed.

He's learned living with an arrhythmia doesn't mean being a couch potato. He regularly runs marathons. "I just have had to be mindful of how I'm feeling."

Meghan and Tyler want to help spread awareness about long QT syndrome, which often goes undiagnosed until a person experiences sudden cardiac death. All too often, those experiences happen to young people during sports or other strenuous activities.

"We are walking for our family," Tyler says. Last year, they walked for Zach.

"I walk for my health."


Brad Babines, RDN, LD, inpatient dietitian at OhioHealth Marion General Hospital, can thank his mom for getting him started early with heart disease prevention. His family has an extensive history of cardiovascular disease. Starting when Brad was just 16 years old, his mom made sure he had his lipid panels done yearly to check his risk of heart disease.

"My mother has been on a statin for over 16 years and did not want me following in her footsteps," says Brad.

"As a teenager, I had no idea what these numbers meant nor did I care,” explains Brad. ”As I grew up, I started to understand that diet and exercise can greatly influence these lab values." That was the driving force for Brad to become a registered dietitian. For exercise, he performs Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, an intense martial art that's part combat sport, part anaerobic workout. He also eats a high fiber, low sodium and low saturated fat diet.

But, consistency is key, Brad points out. "Your lipid panels can change dramatically even if you fall off temporarily from a healthy lifestyle." Brad sees a lot of heart patients and hosts a free heart-healthy class at Marion General Hospital once a month.

He says the patients that have the most success are the ones that are sick of being sick and willing to make a change. Those are the ones that inspire him to walk in the Heart Walk on August 23. For his patients, he leads by example. "I am committed to living the best life I can."

"I walk because walking prevents heart disease."


The signs were clear to Cathy Hulse, RN, MSN, CNRN, clinical outcomes manager at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital, that heart disease was about to play a major factor in her life. Her father survived a heart attack just around the same time that she was suffering from hypertension and high cholesterol. Then, it was the news from her physician that she was pre-diabetic. If she didn't do something about her health quickly, she was at risk for a heart attack, as well.

"That's when I really stepped it up," says Cathy. One step led to thousands of steps a day. Cathy decided to start walking and hasn't stopped. She walks seven days a week, several miles at a time. Her goal is 10,000 steps a day on her GoZone pedometer. She walks a 15 minute mile, finishes a 5K each month, completed two half marathons and even walked 75 miles in five days along the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain. The result? Cathy reversed her diabetes.

"I am the outcomes manager for the Comprehensive Stroke Program here at Riverside. So I know the dangers of heart disease and unhealthy living," explains Cathy. She'll walk August 23 in the Heart Walk and can thank her father for the inspiration. At the age of 87, he, too, walks daily.

Cathy also got an unexpected benefit from all her walking. "I have more people compliment me on my legs! Even at the gym, they want to know what I do to work out. I just tell them I walk. It makes me feel good about myself."

"I walk in memory of my mom."


Some people get a wake-up call about their heart health because of alarming test results or a stern talk from their physician. For Sam Bass, administrative nurse manager at OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital, the wake-up call occurred on the day of the Heart Walk in 2011 when his mother died during open-heart surgery. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her or miss her,” he says.

Just a few months after his mother’s death, Sam hit the road … and park … and trail, and he hasn’t stopped. Sam walks more than 30 miles a week. He and his wife, Taya Bass, who is a surgery billing specialist at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital, walk five miles a day on weekdays and complete a 12-mile hike on the weekends. It takes them three hours to finish their weekend trek.

“If you can find a friend or life partner to exercise with, it makes it a whole lot easier,” says Sam.

The benefits for all that walking are evident. Sam not only lowered his blood pressure, but lost 140 pounds since he started walking. Sam remembers going on long walks with his mother when she was alive, and more than ever, will remember those walks at this year’s Heart Walk on August 23 where he will be a team captain. “I know I’ll feel her spirit next to me when I walk to help others survive the same heart disease that took her life.”

Close Call for Physician and Father of 5

Dr. Warren YamarickEmergency physician Warren Yamarick, MD, has excellent cholesterol levels, is at an ideal weight, has normal blood pressure and is physically active.

He's the last person you'd expect to have heart disease, but a near miss with a serious heart attack reinforced what he already knew - you can't out-run your genes.

Dr. Yamarick's father suffered a serious heart attack at age 57, and Dr. Yamarick recognizes that puts him at risk, too.

In 2011, the 53-year-old Dr. Yamarick attended his triplet daughters' lacrosse game. After running to his car to get a sweatshirt for one of the girls, something didn't feel quite right. At first, he thought he was just out of shape from a winter spent indoors. But when the problem happened again, he went to see Steven Yakubov, MD, a heart specialist at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital.

Dr. Yamarick learned he had an 80 percent blockage in the left anterior descending artery - the type of blockage associated with the worst type of heart attack. Dr. Yakubov removed the blockage and placed a stent in Dr. Yamarick's artery to keep it open.

Recognizing his family history may have saved Dr. Yamarick from a serious heart attack - something he could ill afford. "I'm a single dad to five girls. I have a responsibility to them."

Dr. Yamarick has been participating in the HeartWalk since 2008 and has been the leading fundraiser at OhioHealth the last two years. As medical director of the Emergency Department at Riverside Methodist and of Liberty Township Emergency Medical Services, he has seen his share of heart attacks - many of which were fatal.

Not long after catching his own threat, Dr. Yamarick saw a patient with similar symptoms. The patient, who had no risk factors other than family history, died of a heart attack.

"This cause is very near and dear to what I do for a living," he says of the HeartWalk.

As in past years, Dr. Yamarick's five daughters will join him on the walk. Cheering them on will be Dr. Yamarick's 84-year-old mother, who herself had five stents placed in the past year.

Dr. Yamarick has key advice for people who have heart disease in their families. "Go see a doctor and be evaluated. You can't ignore your family history. Exercise won't save you, diet won't save you, if you live with untreated heart disease."


Stroke Can Happen at Any Age


When the physician entered the room to tell Megan that Doug, her 25-year-old fiancé, had a stroke, she couldn’t believe it. 

“How does that happen?” says Megan Warner, administrative assistant, OhioHealth Neighborhood Care. “He was 25. I didn’t think it could be a stroke.”

In May 2011, Doug returned home from a business trip and went to bed after the 10-hour drive. The next day, he wasn’t feeling well. Megan told him to stay in bed for a while and she would be back to check on him.

When she watched Doug walk across the room, she knew something was wrong.

“He couldn’t walk in a straight line. He was speaking clearly, but wasn’t making sense,” says Megan, who took him to a local urgent care. Upon arrival, they immediately were sent to the Emergency Room. After a series of tests, Doug found out he experienced an 11 mm. stroke, likely caused by a hole in his heart that didn’t close properly after birth. The next year, Doug had a procedure to close the hole.

When asked what this situation taught her, Megan explains her perception of stroke has changed. “It can happen to [anyone] … not just something 80-year-old people have. It’s something everyone needs to know the symptoms for.”

Now happily married, the couple makes an effort to be more active – riding their bikes, eating healthier and staying active with their dog. Doug also takes an aspirin each day and has made a full recovery.

“You make the life adjustments you need to make to keep going,” says Megan. “You need to know the [warning] signs in the back of your head, but I’m not constantly worried [because] we are better prepared now.”

Stroke Can't Stop Runner

Robert Gast is doing all he can to recover from his stroke. He takes several hours of speech therapy each day, practices elementary math in a workbook, researches his condition on the Internet and recently attended the Aphasia Recovery Connection support retreat.

As if that is not enough, he runs like he has never run before – six miles every other day. “He has always loved to run,” said Robert’s mother Lynn Gast. “But now he has more time for it because he is at home and unable to work.”

Robert suffered his stroke on May 14, 2013 while at work at the Abercrombie and Fitch corporate offices last year. The Ohio State University graduate and former marching band member was just 33 years old at the time. “Everybody was surprised,” his mother said. “The only symptom he had before it happened was a headache.”

Robert still has some numbness on his right side and struggles with some cognitive deficits. He is re-learning the alphabet and still can’t speak a complete sentence, his mother said. But running is part of a work ethic that expresses Robert’s desire to achieve a full recovery. “It just makes sense to him – and me – that being in good physical condition increases blood flow to the brain and helps healing,” Lynn said.

Despite his deficits, Robert drives, shops, cooks, cleans and mows. He takes care of the home he owns in north Columbus, where he lives with a roommate and his dog. “His stroke hasn’t affected him physically as much as cognitively,” his mother said. “He was in really good shape before his stroke and maybe that is why he didn’t lose so much of his physical ability.”

In addition to maintaining a high level of fitness, Robert has enjoyed the support of family and friends. His mother and father took turns traveling from California in order to work with him and his friends bought him an iPad and often invite him to go out with them.
“He is frustrated but not depressed,” his mother said.”He’s working really hard and getting better. He would love to go back to work, but it is just not possible now.”

Until then, he’ll keep on running.

Walker Recovers One Step at a Time

“A stroke was the last thing on my mind,” said Kate Sorenson. Even after she experienced temporary paralysis, slurred speech and an inability to read or write, she never considered stroke. She thought her medications she was taking for a concussion from a fall two weeks earlier were the culprit.

Her paralysis “resolved itself after 5 to 10 minutes at home,” but when her other symptoms continued Kate went the next day to the OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital Emergency Department where a CT scan revealed that she had suffered from a stroke caused by a blood clot that had dislodged from a dissected carotid artery.

It was later discovered by her neurologist that she had a rare disorder known as fibromuscular dysplasia, a stroke risk factor characterized by abnormal cellular growth in the arterial walls.“I was 41 and healthy at the time. I thought strokes only happened to older people,” she said.

Her treatment included medication and months of intense therapy. “It was like being a first-grader again,” she said. “But eventually I was able to speak, read and write in an acceptable manner.”

Some deficits continue. “Math is still a problem for me, and I have to listen harder and concentrate more when people are talking. There are some effects that I am starting to think might be with me forever,” she said.

With those lingering effects in mind, the Powell wife and mother has begun “thinking about how to picture my life after a stroke,” she said.

A big part of that new life includes more exercise, not only to help prevent another stroke but to improve her overall fitness level. “After the stroke, I had a tremendous amount of fatigue,” Kate said. “I was like a piece of rubber, really out of shape. I had to get more active.”

On top of gardening and chasing after her five children, Kate aims to walk at least 10,000 steps a day that she tracks on pedometer. “I’m averaging 9,000 so far,” she said. She also attends a stroke support group each week, where she is learning about better nutrition.

Kate initially feared that increasing her activity level might lead to another stroke. She has learned that just the opposite is true.
“Education is the key to finding out what you can do to reduce your risk and for recognizing the signs and symptoms,” she said. “I wish I had been better informed before I had my stroke. I also think it is very important to get the word out that a stroke can happen to anyone, no matter how old you are or what kind of shape you’re in. I wish I would have been more savvy and proactive. I didn’t do enough before my stroke.”

A LifeFlight Nurse Becomes the Patient

He stared up at the ceiling of the Med Flight helicopter he’d flown on so many times before as a LifeFlight nurse earlier in his career. But this time, Bob wasn’t taking care of a patient; he was the patient.

It was November 10, 2005. Bob had returned home from a medical mission trip to aid the victims of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans just days before. As was routine, he woke up at 4 a.m., made the coffee, turned on the news and studied for his MBA program in the basement office. Next thing he knew, Bob woke up on the floor under his desk. The clock said 5:30 a.m. He had been out for over an hour.

“I knew it was something neurological, but I didn’t know what,” says Bob, who crawled up the stairs to wake his wife, Betsy. She took one look at him, and called the squad.

Bob arrived at the Marysville ED and was flown via MedFlight and old LifeFlight friends to OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital where he served as director of Emergency and Trauma Services. He suffered from a ruptured aneurysm, a condition with a 30 to 40 percent chance of death and 20 to 35 percent chance of brain damage, even if the aneurysm is treated.

The Riverside team stopped the bleeding from the first aneurysm and sealed a second before it did the same. “God was watching out for me,” says Bob.

Over the next year, Bob’s road to recovery began – going through physical, occupational and speech therapy. He went back to work, graduated on time with his MBA cohort, learned a lot about his priorities, and ultimately, experienced a full recovery.

“This experience helped me understand the value of life and family – life is just too short.”

Now, Bob takes better care of himself – exercising daily and using techniques, such as meditation, to better manage his stress.

“I can’t thank my family enough for their support, and for the treatment I received at Riverside Methodist,” says Bob, as he smiles. “They saved my life.”

A Stroke at 42

Steve Hickenbottom woke up one morning with one of the worst headaches of his life and did what many people would do. He took two Advil and soldiered into work.

He kept taking Advil every couple of hours but still wasn’t feeling well. “I kept thinking, this is going to let up, but it didn’t.” By 4 p.m. that day, he knew something was seriously wrong. 

While talking to his wife on the phone, he had trouble getting words out and was slurring. She asked him, “What is wrong with you? You need to get to the Emergency Room.”

At age 42, Steve had suffered a stroke. Due to a structural defect in his heart, a blood clot had traveled from Steve’s heart to his brain. 

It was a frightening experience. Steve remembers wondering if his speech would remain slurred forever and what that would mean for his job in Information Services at OhioHealth. Fortunately, Steve’s stroke was mild. After five days of treatment with blood thinners and several speech therapy sessions, his symptoms cleared, and he went home. 

A month later, he returned to OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital for a procedure to repair the heart defect that caused the stroke.

Today, Steve, 48, is the business relationship manager for the OhioHealth Stroke Network, a partnership that uses telemedicine to give 21 regional hospitals real-time access to stroke experts and diagnostic tools at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center  and Riverside Methodist . He frequently finds himself talking about his own experience.

“To be able to tell my own story, it helps to drive my point home when I’m talking to people,” he says. “I think it drives why I’m so passionate about this program.”

He wants to stress the importance of paying attention to symptoms and seeking help immediately. “We as healthcare professionals can be the worst patients. We write off our symptoms and think, this can’t be happening to me. Well, it did happen to me, and it can happen to you.”