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Ski Club & Heart Club

Tan and fit, Vern Hanson makes it look easy. On one ski, he cuts in and out of a course of buoys, leaning so far he nearly lays down. A rooster tail of water fans to the sky.

“It’s intense, especially the acceleration. You go from 0 to 70 mph six times,” says the 63-year-old who began skiing at age 10.

For accomplished skiers such as Vern and members of the Floyd Lake Ski Club near Detroit Lakes, Minn., the course takes a terrifying 17 seconds. They up the challenges by shortening the tow rope.

“You get done and feel like you’ve been running full out for 40 minutes,” says Vern. “It’s a real workout -- and a whole lot of fun.”

Late last summer his lifelong passion gave him an unexpected gift, revealing a very serious heart problem.

“Four times through the course and I was completely wiped out -- so out of breath I couldn’t even talk. Totally exhausted,” he says.

Taking action

Vern made an appointment with Terry Peterson, physician’s assistant at Sanford Clinic North Fargo. The exam was followed by a frank discussion.

“I felt stupid, but I told Terry I was concerned,” says Vern. “I asked him: ‘Is it aging or do I have a problem?’”

Vern also recalled getting short of breath from a flight of stairs. Plus, he had a family history of heart disease.

The concerns led to a stress test. The test showed Vern’s heart could withstand a very high level of exercise, but with problems. Terry referred him to Dr. Jack Crary, cardiologist at Sanford Heart Center.

More than expected

Additional tests indicated extensive blockage in a main coronary artery. “I figured they’d put in a stent and I’d be good to go,” says Vern. “My wife, Genece, and I were shocked to hear I’d need bypass surgery. It’s unnerving. You hear people say heart surgery has become so common it’s routine. Well, when it’s you, it’s not routine.”

Vern and Genece met Dr. Roxanne Newman, Sanford cardiovascular surgeon. “I had a lot of questions,” he says. “Her experience and confidence made us feel very comfortable.”

Successful triple bypass surgery took place June 9. “I felt well taken care of, both in the hospital and at home,” he says. Two weeks later he was back at work at his family business -- Hanson Brothers Construction.

“It’s my nature to push myself -- to do my best, whether it’s skiing slalom or building houses. But I listened to Dr. Newman and tried to take it easy,” he says. “I also appreciated the coaching from the people in Cardiac Rehab. When I tried to overdo it, they’d slow me down.”

Return of the Vern

Five weeks after surgery the Floyd Lake Ski Club got itchy for Vern’s return. They made a card for Dr. Newman, complete with photos of Vern and an important message: “Please let Vern ski!”

“Really, it was their way of thanking her for fixing my heart,” says Vern. “Even before she saw the card, she said I could ski again, but to go at it gradually.”

Ten weeks after surgery? It’s a perfect August evening, and Vern and the ski club gather on the bay. With the grace of a ski show pro, he zips back and forth through the slalom course five times. Breathing comfortably, he’s ready for a sixth.

Don’t wait for a heart attack

“I was so fortunate to get my problem fixed without ever having a heart attack,” says Vern. “The lake would’ve been a bad place to have one.”

Could you, too, avert disaster? Step one: Know your risk factors, including a history of heart disease in your family. Step two: Beware of symptoms such as:

    * Undue fatigue
    * Shortness of breath
    * Chest discomfort from increased activity

If you notice a problem, take a tip from Vern: “Don’t act like it’s not happening. Tell your doctor and get the help you need.”

Today Vern has more energy than he’s had in years -- and more appreciation for his life outside of skiing. “I can’t say enough about my wife,” he says, pausing. “She’s just a beautiful person. Even after nearly 40 years married …. going through this together … it draws you closer.”

Posted Date: September 2011