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Heartache



Garth Epperson knows a thing or two about pressure. Forty years in the motor-coach business, he drove and maintained the deluxe buses that transported top-name singers including B.B. King, Michael Murphy, Johnny Cash and Reba McEntire.

“Oh yeah, I’ve got stories,” says the 61-year-old with a southern drawl. Laid-back and likable, Garth grew up in Texas, but his work took him all over the country.

In 2003, his much-loved career came to a screeching halt. Heart problems had triggered an entirely different type of pressure.

70 pounds all the time

Garth was in his 40s when unrecognized heart attacks detoured him. Bypass surgery followed in 1998.

“I got through surgery just fine, but several months later I felt the pressure on my chest. Every year it got worse,” he recalls. “By the time I got help, the pain felt like 70 pounds sitting on me all the time.”

Garth’s exhaustive search for relief took him to one doctor after the next in several places. His wife, Julia, started a notebook to organize his care. All the tests indicated he had an enlarged heart and severe heart failure. More surgery was not the answer.

An evaluation in February 2011 by Dr. Susan Farkas, cardiologist at Sanford Heart in Fargo, put Garth on a new track. First, she recommended a nitroglycerin patch to help reduce his pain. Next she referred him to Sue Wojcik, nurse practitioner with expertise in heart failure.

“I asked Sue about the chest pressure and she said something nobody else had said: ‘Let’s get you to the pain-management people.’ I was willing,” he says.

A mechanical fix

When Garth went to Sanford Pain Management in Fargo, he hoped more pills would not be the answer.

“I was already up to 38 a day, so when they mentioned implanting a spinal cord stimulator, I was open to it,” he says. “I already have a pacemaker and a defibrillator, so I guess you could say mechanical things don’t scare me much.”

Based on 40 years of technology and clinically proven, a spinal cord stimulator sends pulsed electricity to the spinal cord, disrupting pain signals. Common uses include chronic back pain that has not responded to surgery as well as chronic arm and leg pain.

Dr. Majid Ghazi, Sanford pain management physician, has utilized the spinal cord stimulator for more than a decade, implanting up to 60 a year. He’s been particularly impressed with the device’s success in a select group of patients with heart pain.

“Extensive research has shown the spinal cord stimulator works very well for patients with refractory angina -- heart pain that does not respond to surgeries and medication,” says Dr. Ghazi. “We don’t know the exact reason why, but we do know two important facts: the stimulator modulates the pain pathway and stops pain perceptions, and second, it dilates the coronary arteries to improve blood flow. We’ve seen excellent results.”

Garth underwent same-day surgery to implant the device on August 16. “I instantly felt the difference -- a tingling sensation, but not pain. It was great!” he says. “The stimulator brought my pain from a level of eight all the way down to one or two, and that’s all the time. I can even sleep on my left side now.”

The spinal cord stimulator is one of many approaches available at Sanford Pain Management. This well-trained team offers a wide range of comprehensive, individualized services to reduce pain and improve quality of life.

Keep on truckin’

Before Garth’s success with the spinal cord stimulator, he worried about the years ahead. How bad would the pain get? How much could he handle? What would he do?

“I’m a pretty tough person, but even I wondered how things would turn out if the pain kept getting worse,” he says.

Today Garth has an upbeat view of the future. He describes the 1948 model CJ2 Jeep parked in his garage at home in Pembina, ND

“It’s going to look like a brand new vehicle when I get done restoring it,” he says with a smile. “I like to tinker.”

And his health? He still has heart failure and other problems, but he’s thankful severe chest pain isn’t one of them.

“I’m the only living person in my family,” he says. “Everybody else died from a heart attack -- my daddy at 49, my sister at 51, my brother at 55. I think I’m doin’ pretty good.”

Posted Date: October 2011

Heartache

Garth Epperson knew the ins and outs of fixing motor coaches, but what could he do about stubborn heart pain after bypass surgery? He discovered an “electrifying” answer at Sanford Pain Management.