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.
Call for Physician and Father of 5
Emergency 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."
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.”
This is Steve’s first HeartWalk. He is walking in part to honor his father, who recently died of the same kind of stroke that Steve had. Heart and vascular disease touches other members of Steve’s family as well. His brother-in-law, also in the stroke network, is a heart attack survivor, and his 23-year-old daughter recently had a pacemaker implanted due to a heart rhythm problem.
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.”
Learn more about the signs of stroke at OhioHealth.com/Stroke