MEDICAL CHECKUP FINDS MAJOR HEART PROBLEM - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports



At age 47, heart disease was the furthest thing from Ron Johnson's mind. Although a diabetic, he regularly played basketball and kept active through his job as a physical therapist in the Rhinelander School District.

So it was with a good deal of amazement that he "flunked" a stress test during a routine checkup. "I was completely caught off guard," Johnson said. "I was always very careful about monitoring my blood sugar and managing my diabetes. It never crossed my mind that I had a heart problem."

His primary care doctor, Dr. Bruce Kotila, an internal medicine physician at Ministry Medical Group - Northern Region, referred him to Saint Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield, where Dr. David Grierson performed an angiogram to determine the extent of the problem. What Ron expected to be a one-day appointment turned into a five-day hospital stay.

"He told me I had some blockages and I'd need open heart surgery," he said. "They admitted me that day to the hospital and Dr. (Hope) Maki performed a quadruple bypass. She told me afterward that it looked like I had a heart attack about three months earlier."

As he remembered it, Johnson said, he had been playing basketball and experienced shortness of breath, so he'd have to leave the game and catch his breath before going back in. "But I didn't have any pain, so I didn't think anything of it," he recalled.

According to Dr. Maki, people with diabetes are more susceptible not only to coronary artery disease, but to "silent" heart attacks.

"People with diabetes are at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke, and more likely to get heart disease at a younger age than someone without diabetes," said Dr. Maki. "It's fortunate that Mr. Johnson's condition was caught and corrected before anything major happened."

It's been nearly five years now, and Johnson has since retired. He tries to keep active, doing some walking and keeping up with his two young grandchildren. He also follows a low-fat diet, "although I may sneak a few more treats now and then."

He's still grateful that they found his problem before it got worse. "I consider myself pretty lucky," he said. "It could have been much worse. And the care I received was excellent."

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