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One simple step. One heart saved. One life improved.

Gary Rodacker’s family was no stranger to heart disease. The 70-year-old Harwood, N.D., man had 16 aunts and uncles on his father’s side, and the majority of them died from heart complications before they ever reached Gary’s age.

“I was aware of the issues, but I wasn’t experiencing any problems myself,” Gary says. “So I never even thought about getting my heart checked out. I felt perfectly fine.”

What Gary didn’t know is that while he felt fine on the outside, he was far from fine on the inside. He was taking a risky gamble by choosing to remain in the dark about his heart health.

Thankfully Gary’s family intervened before a life-changing or life-taking event happened. Two of his cousins heard about heart screens at Sanford Health, and decided to schedule their own screenings, since they, too, had the same family heart history as Gary.

“They both had problems that were detected during their screenings,” Gary says. “They were treatable, but they immediately called my wife, concerned for me.”

With some encouragement from his wife and cousins, Gary scheduled a heart screen in mid-July at Sanford Center for Screening. To make it easier, his wife also scheduled her own screen.

“My wife’s numbers all came back just like they should,” he recalls. “But my scores looked a lot like my grades in school – not so good. I was told I needed to see a cardiologist as soon as possible.”

Holly Boub, clinical manager of prevention and wellness at the screening center, explains that Gary is one of many that Sanford’s team strives to reach.

“Our goal is to those in the community who are at risk, so they can take appropriate action before it’s too late,” she says. “Adults ages 25 to 75 can come in at any time to be screened. Even if you don’t suspect anything, you can get a baseline screening to know where you stand.”

Holly says approximately 10 percent of patients who are screened get a direct referral to a cardiologist – just like Gary.

Gary talked with his son, who used to work in cardiology at Sanford. He recommended he see Susan Farkas, MD, cardiologist. Gary followed his son’s advice and after an angiogram, Dr. Farkas explained he had multiple blockages in his heart – some as much as 90 percent.

And from then, everything moved very quickly. Gary received his angiogram results on a Friday, and the following Monday, Aug. 4 to be exact, he was scheduled for surgery. His cardiothoracic surgeon, Roxanne Newman, MD, explained that because of his condition, he would need at least a triple bypass.

“I was so impressed with the team at Sanford and how quickly everything happened,” Gary says. “Dr. Newman instilled confidence right from the start and it was all over so quickly – it was amazing.”

Gary completed cardiac rehabilitation following his surgery, and returned to his part-time job hauling corn seed or beans for local farmers. His life has virtually returned to how it was before – almost.

“I know that my situation was serious,” he says. “It was not a matter of ‘if’, but rather ‘when’ I would have a heart attack that could have taken my life. It was that heart screen that changed everything.”

Holly and Gary both say a heart screen is an inexpensive, painless and easy way to gain invaluable knowledge.

“If we can catch a problem or complication early, a major event can be prevented,” Holly says. “Knowing your risk could save your life – it’s that simple.”

Posted Date: February 2015