In The Press


I Got My Life Back

From Caring Magazine, Winter 2012

The CMH Emergency Department and Heart Team respond to a torn aorta and a 90% mortality rate.

In the middle of the night 12 summers past, Mark Franek’s world unraveled. At age 47, he suffered a heart attack that left him in a coma for six days and potentially in need of a heart transplant.

A medical team of experts at Community Memorial Hospital – from Emergency Department physicians and cardiologists to cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Lamar Bushnell, who performed quadruple bypass surgery – saved Franek’s life. However, Franek credits the CMH Cardiac Rehabilitation Department with giving him his life back.

“I would not be here today without the Cardiac Care Rehab Program,” the 59-year-old Ventura resident says. “I mean that. They educated me about my heart and about exercise and nutrition, but they did so much more than that. (Department Director) Mary Miasek – I call her ‘Saint Mary’ because she is so caring – and her outstanding staff gave me confidence and peace of mind.”

In fact, they have done so twice. Indeed, Franek is a two-time “graduate” of the carefully planned 10-week program that uses a multidisciplinary approach of exercise, education, nutrition, reduction of risk factors, and stress management classes to rebuild the body, mind and spirit of patients and their families. The ultimate goal is to help patients who have suffered recent cardiac incidents such as myocardial infarction, cardiac bypass surgery or angioplasty return to their optimum quality of life.

Franek says he appreciated being monitored by an EKG the entire time he was exercising on a treadmill or stationary bike. He also has high praise for the nurses who are specially trained in cardiology, nutrition, body mechanics, and exercise physiology.

“They are so knowledgeable and caring,” Franek says. “They never treated me like a number – I was Mr. Franek to them. With a heart attack or heart surgery, you lose a lot of your dignity and sense of control, but they really help give it back to you by treating you with the greatest respect and care.”

Franek left the program with new lifestyle habits, including wearing a pedometer with a daily goal of taking 10,000 steps although he proudly notes he usually surpasses 14,000. He also follows a low-fat Mediterranean/Japanesestyle diet rich in vegetables.

“For me, the psychologists were crucial,” Franek explains of his challenging road to recovery. “Getting over the mental part of having a heart attack has been much more difficult for me than the physical recovery. Not at one instant do most people think, ‘Is my heart going to beat one more time?’ I do. Any indigestion, any muscle twitch can make me think, ‘Is this it?’

“Community Memorial Hospital’s Cardiac Rehab Program has really helped me get past that,” he continues, gratefully. “Mary and her staff have given me a certain peace of mind. In many ways, they gave me my life back.”

August 27, 1999 is a date Mark Franek recalls as quickly as his February 27 birth date because it almost became his date of death.

“I woke up at 3:15 in the morning and felt sick to my stomach,” he recalls. “I thought I had the flu.” After a second wave of nausea struck 15 minutes later, with his arms now tingling from elbows to fingertips and his skin having turned ashen, his wife Sharon called 911.

“God bless the Fire Department,” Franek says. “They arrived in five or six minutes. And God bless CMH.”

To be sure, Franek was also blessed: Despite going into full cardiac arrest, having CPR for nearly 30 minutes, and being defibrillated 12 times, he survived and woke up from a coma six days later. However, his heart was severely damaged.

Initially too weak to have bypass surgery, Franek began a walking regimen to rebuild his strength. Beginning with 52 steps – “26 steps from the couch and 26 steps back”– he gradually increased to twice-daily strolls of 3 to 5 miles after 12 weeks.

On Oct. 29, 1999, Dr. Lamar Bushnell and the CMH Heart Team performed a successful quadruple bypass. The procedure also corrected a “cardiac hibernation” where a section of Franek’s heart, previously believed to be damaged, came back “on-line” once blood flow was supplied to it, improving his cardiac function from 40 percent to 60 percent.

Franek next entered the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program in November and continued to increase his fitness to where he was vigorously riding a stationary bike for 45 minutes. After completing the program in January 2000, he returned to work as a finance manager at Barber RV.

“I was thinking about my heart all the time,” Franek admits, though for the next decade his health remained good while being monitored regularly by cardiologist Dr. Siegfried Storz. That changed on March 24, 2009, when he suffered Ventricular Tachycardia (VT) where the lower chamber of the heart beats too quickly and dangerously out of rhythm. By the time paramedics brought him through CMH’s E.R. doors, Franek’s heart rate was extremely high. The following day Dr. Ishu Rao, a cardiac electrophysiologist at CMH, surgically installed an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD).

“Mentally, I was once again constantly thinking about my heart,” Franek shares. Slowly, his worries receded a little until 15 months later when the ICD went off for the first time to correct a VT episode.

“When it fired – Pow! – it literally knocked me on the floor from the chair I was sitting in,” Franek recalls. “Everything was then fine until – Pow! – it went off again ninety days later.” Rather than a therapy of drugs to control the VT, Franek opted for an ablation procedure a week later on Sept. 9, 2010 with Dr. Rao surgically cauterizing several problematic electrical pathways in the scar tissue that were causing the episodes.

Thirteen nights later, after experiencing chest tightness and shortness of breath, Franek once again was rushed to the CMH Emergency Department; the following day cardiologists Dr. Alon Steinberg and Dr. Shaun Patel put in two stents to open up arteries that were 95 percent and 65 percent occluded.

Franek’s nightmare resumed exactly two weeks later when he was in Las Vegas for an RV trade show last October. Early in the morning – Pow! – his ICD went off. A minute later – Pow! – it fired again.

“I had been told that if it goes off more than once, go to the hospital right away,” Franek says. After two days in a Nevada hospital, he was able to return to CMH where Dr. Rao and Dr. Steinberg put him on a new drug that has successfully controlled his VT since.

“One good thing that has come out of all this is I have a greater appreciation for family and friends,” says Franek, a father of two who celebrated his silver wedding anniversary in August. “I have really realized life is not a dress rehearsal.”

Shocked both literally and figuratively by the rapid series of VT episodes late last year, Franek decided to celebrate Thanksgiving 2010 a few days early by re-enrolling in CMH’s Cardiac Rehab Program.

“I needed to see Mary and her admirable staff again,” he says. “I would highly recommend the program to anyone who has suffered a heart problem. After going through it, my mind is in a much better place now. My life is in a better place.”

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