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To Protect and Serve -- a Heart

For over four decades, Lyle Swenson made it his job to protect others.

The retired officer spent his career upholding the law in South Dakota. As Davison County Sheriff and later U.S. Marshall for South Dakota, serving others has always been his calling.

It took a cardiac screening for Lyle to realize that he needed some protection himself. The healthy-looking, active man had no idea that he had little blood flowing to and from his heart, putting him at great risk for heart attack and long-term cardiac damage.

“I never once worried about my heart,” says Lyle from his Mitchell home. “I looked good, but looks can be deceiving.”

A minor problem

For months, Lyle had noticed that he would begin to huff and puff when he really exerted himself, but he never gave it much thought. He filled his days doing historical and genealogical research as a volunteer and working a part-time job that required him to lift some heavy boxes every couple of weeks.

“I’d be out of breath, but it wasn’t a big thing to me,” Lyle says. “By the time I was moving down the street again, I’d forgotten about it.”

Nothing would have changed if Lyle’s wife hadn’t suggested that he attend a Sanford cardiac screening clinic. A few quick tests both changed and likely saved his life, he says.

“People told me that they never suspected that anything was wrong,” said the 76-year-old man. “I’m a very lucky guy.”

A test for heart health

When Lyle went in for a panel of heart screening tests in January 2010, the technician noted some strange activity on the left side of his heart. He was scheduled for another appointment in Sioux Falls a few days later.

During his follow-up screening, Lyle was walking on a treadmill when he quickly began to fade. His cardiologist, Dr. Adam Stys, discovered that three of his arteries were blocked, putting him in immediate danger of heart attack.

“I don’t remember much of what happened, except that they told me, ‘You aren’t going home,’” Lyle says, with a hearty laugh.

The next morning, Lyle underwent a triple bypass. The surgery saved his heart without any long-term damage. In fact, the hardest part of recovery for the active man was the rest required to heal after surgery.

“After a week and half, I was ready to move,” Lyle said. “I felt like I had to do something, I just couldn’t tolerate just sitting there.”

Getting back into shape

Lyle took his cardiac rehabilitation seriously and now works out three days a week, walking on the treadmill and using a step machine. He watches what he eats and has dropped 25 pounds. In fact, his doctor told him that his heart is in such good shape now that he doesn’t have to come back for his next appointment for another year.

“When you get a second chance, you take it,” Lyle said. “You’ve got to start living different if you want to have a future.”

Since his surgery, Lyle said he recommends that others take the time to have a heart screen. He had no history of heart disease in his family and had always been active. His cardiologist told him he was weeks or even days away from a heart attack that could have ended his life.

Today, Lyle says he really savors each moment. Taking a walk with his granddaughter or digging up a detail for someone at the county historical society office is an opportunity he doesn’t want to waste.

“I don’t take that kind of stuff for granted – that it’s going to be there tomorrow,” Lyle said. “I’m enjoying my life.”

Posted Date: September 2011