A talk from the heart
February is Heart Month. Join our guest, Consumers employee Nate Stinson, as he shares his story of undergoing three open heart surgeries to correct a life-threatening heart defect. Along with his family, the American Heart Association played a huge role in helping Nate throughout his journey. Listen to hear the whole story!
Lynne Jarman-Johnson (LJJ): Money I’m home. Welcome in. This is Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union and I’ll tell you what our podcast today, is from the heart.
I am so pleased to be sitting across from a very dear friend of mine and colleague, name is Nathan Stinson, and I want you guys to meet him because you know there was a good chance that he may not have been sitting across from me. Nate, you got quite the story to tell.
Nate Stinson (NS): Yes, I do.
LJJ: So, let’s back up.
LJJ: Close your eyes okay, tell me a little bit about the first time that you thought in your life. Hey, there’s something that’s not quite right going on with my health.
NS: Yeah, I don’t know if I can pinpoint the day but, I was 23 and I started to notice my heart would skip beats randomly. I wouldn’t have to be working out, I could just be walking or sitting at my desk, and I would notice that it would stop for a second, and then it would come back really strong almost like it was catching its breath, and then making up for that miss beat with a really strong beat. And then it would take my breath away and it would…
LJJ: Literally take your breath away.
NS: Yep so the strong beat, would hit, and then it would take my breath away, instantly, so every time it happened, I became short of breath.
LJJ: Didn’t matter where you were.
NS: Nope didn’t matter what I was doing, if I was working out, if I was sitting still, it would happen all the time.
LJJ: At that point, did you go to the doctor, did you wait?
NS: I waited a little bit thinking maybe it was like a fluke or, I don’t know. And then I went to the doctor the first doctor told me, don’t worry about it, is nothing.
My uncle is the doctor actually he was like no, go to another doctor, that’s weird. I went to a second doctor. They said don’t worry about it, it’s nothing. So, I told my uncle, he’s like… Keep going back you. This is not right. Yep. They need to run some tests. So, it took four appointments before the fourth doctor said, You know what, let’s just run some tests and see, see what’s going on.
LJJ: So, what do you think it was because of age?
NS: I don’t know all the doctors were like, “Oh it’s just a palpitation, that’s normal, nothing to worry about. You’ll probably live with it the rest of your life.”
LJJ: Then the fourth doctor says let’s run some tests.
NS: Doesn’t hurt to run tests and see what’s going on. They said it’s probably nothing but peace of mind. Let’s check it out.
LJJ: So, what happened?
NS: So, they did an ultrasound actually on my heart, and they found something that was just slightly off, but they couldn’t tell what it was. It was enlarged in one side, so they said, Let’s run a MRI.
LJJ: You’re young.
NS: Yeah, yep, and they said let’s do the MRI, and they found a hole in between the right and left side of my heart. So, blood is supposed to go around your heart, from the right to left side, blood was pouring into the right side causing it to fill up, and they would have to take extra-large beats to pump out that blood. Dr. said if that continued, I’d be dead by 40 ’cause my heart couldn’t keep up that pace, yeah.
LJJ: Did you always have this, or you don’t know?
NS: Born with it. Yeah,
LJJ: Born with it.
LJJ: And never had any problems until 23.
NS: They said sometimes bodies adapt to it for a long time and can live with it and push through it. Sometimes bodies don’t adapt to it and you notice it right away. My cousin has the same heart defect, I do. And they found it when she was a baby.
LJJ: They think that genetic?
LJJ: Okay, wow, do you have a baby.
NS: Yes, I do.
So, they ran tests on him to make sure he didn’t have it already. We asked for those specifically.
LJJ: That’s awesome, yeah.
So, alright, let’s hear about the journey. Because what happens then, like number one? What goes through your mind, your 23, you’re young, you’re like, What do you mean 40?
NS: Yeah, it’s scary.
I’m not going to lie. It was, I remember that day I found out I went to the doctor, not thinking I was going to find out anything bad, and it was here in town and they were like… You’re going to have to open heart surgery if you don’t have it, you’re going to die young, you’re going to have to go to U of M because we’ve never done it here before, it’s very complicated. They made it sound…
I was freaking out, I remember I came back to work, and I talked for my boss, I was like, I got to go home.
I don’t really know what’s going on. Called my wife, called my parents, they’re all crying. It would kind of felt like close to death at that time. Now that I look back, I realized it wasn’t.
LJJ: Yeah it was.
NS: It’s better, yeah, but it was scary and then it was reaching out to U of M setting up all the appointments. There’s a lot of pre-appointments before you have that kind of thing go on.
LJJ: So, what was the length of time and what happened?
NS: So actually, went pretty fast, so I found out in August ended up having open heart surgery in February, so it took, about a half a year to get everything scheduled. A lot of pre-appointments testing make sure it was really funny, ‘because I was super scared leaving after that point, and then the day of, I was fine, and when I was leaving, I told Ashley, my wife when I left. They were all crying, like I’m going to go get surgery. My mom and dad are crying, she’s crying, and I was like, Hey come here and she was like, yeah and I go, I’m batman.
And that was my last word to her so if I did die in surgery, that was all she had, and afterwards I was like, I wasn’t nervous at all. She was like you were really drugged up, but I was like no, I wasn’t… And she’s like no, they were pumping you full of stuff to make you not nervous I was like, Oh that makes a lot of sense.
So, I felt really good beforehand. But yeah, it’s nerve racking.
LJJ: So, what about recovery on something like that?
NS: I was in the hospital for one week and I will honestly say that was the toughest week of my life.
They don’t tell you everything that’s going to happen, and I think it’s, so you’re not scared going into it, but I really couldn’t move very much. My lungs collapsed during surgery, so I couldn’t breathe on my own yet, I had all kinds of tubes draining things, it was very uncomfortable, very painful. It was weird seeing all those tubes coming out of me and it was just a really rough week.
LJJ: I bet Ashley was just…
NS: She’s my hero she really, if I, without her, I don’t know how I would have done it, she did everything that I could have asked to help me through it. Like times where I broke down, she would stay strong and she told me she’d go break down somewhere else not around me, and I, but she was very supportive.
LJJ: You know emotionally, that has to be… You’re very young at that point, you get through the surgery, you then realize that you’re immobile for a brief period of time. What goes through your mind?
NS: It’s tough ’cause it’s not something you ever expect to go through. Especially being younger.
I never thought I’d be in that spot.
There was one day, I remember specifically, it was like day three or four where I was just in so much pain and I told my mom, she said. I was like I understand now why some people want to die, because if you have to live in this kind of pain for your whole life. I was like it’s unbearable there’s not a quality of life, so it’s just you go through a lot of emotions, it’s tough.
LJJ: Physically what do they tell you to start to do? I just remember my brother-in-law had open heart surgery, and I remember talking with him about how he was afraid to do things at the beginning.
NS: Yeah, yeah, it was definitely, I was hesitant to do almost everything until they told me I needed to. That first day, I really didn’t move, the second day they kind of sat me up and moved a little bit, then the third day they wanted me to start walking, and everything I did, I was kind of scared to do. And then, especially after the first week going home, they tell you not to put your hands above your shoulders, you can’t reach up and do things. So, then an accident on a reflex I would reach up at a cover and grab a box of cereal, and it would hurt so bad and then I’m like, oh my God, did I just mess something up, did I just tear something, did I ruin what they did?
LJJ: Wow, so, so what’s the recovery time?
NS: I was back to work in about nine weeks.
LJJ: Nine weeks.
LJJ: Tell me about that. You come back into work and…
NS: It was an adjustment, it was…
LJJ: Like my thing would be wouldn’t you get tired because you hadn’t been used to maybe activity of a work nature, whether it’s a sitting down or standing up.
NS: It was just getting back in my habit of going to work, I wouldn’t say so much I was tired, I tried to keep myself in the same sleep routine and I tried to make sure I kept my brain functioning by doing things at home. It was just weird to come in and have responsibilities again, and tasks and as a manager leading other people, you kind of had to get back into the swing things. So honestly, I got so bored at home though.
There’d be days actually would come home. I’m like, You have to take me somewhere, anywhere, like just take me for a drive. I felt like a dog, just roll down the window, and let me look outside and then bring me back home.
LJJ: So how has the recovery been?
NS: Good, what they don’t tell you though sometimes things happen due to your surgery.
So, when they did my surgery, recovery was good, and I started to have palpitations again, when they do surgery, they damage some things in my heart. So then six months later I had to get a pacemaker because it wasn’t beating correctly on its own, and then actually last month, I had another heart surgery, because I was having palpitations again, my heart was beating too fast and too slow, so I had to have an ablation where they cauterize parts of my heart.
NS: So, two surgeries after the first one.
LJJ: And how are you feeling now?
NS: I feel great right now.
LJJ: As he laughs.
NS: It goes in waves.
Because you always think you’re feeling great after the last one and then some type of something comes back, but I feel really good.
LJJ: Well, you are a big proponent here at Consumers with the American Heart Association. Obviously, there’s personal reasons why, how strongly do you focus on a specific care for the American Heart Association?
NS: Yeah, I definitely strongly support them. And they do amazing things. They provide money for research, for I know with my surgery, they would play a piece in that I don’t know if they would have been able to do without funding and technology and science and things like that. I don’t know if it’s a specific care that I support is just… They think they do incredible things for anyone that has heart disease, heart issues from small to incredibly risky surgery so.
LJJ: One of the things that I think is most surprising, I’m going to go back to the fact that doctors just said, Don’t worry about it, yeah, and you refuse to say no. How important is that?
And I was one of the people, I didn’t like going to the doctor. If a doctor told me nothing to worry about, I was sweet. I’m all set, so whatever the time, if someone’s like, “Oh I’m having a heart issue I feel like I’m short of breath or my chest hurts”, just go to the doctor, they’re like, “I don’t want to spend $30”, I’m like trust me, spend the $30 co-pay, go to the doctor, take the time. If it’s nothing, you have peace of mind, if it’s something you might be able to prevent an issue down the road. So, do wellness checkups, go to the doctor at least once a year. Do physicals, just be cautious.
LJJ: What’s your routine like now?
NS: So now before I didn’t have like a family care doctor. I rarely ever went to the doctor.
LJJ: Now you have a best friend who’s a doctor.
NS: Yes, I do, and my family, is you need a primary doctor. I’m like for what? Now, I have two primary doctors. I have a heart doctor and just a wellness doctor, so I go usually four times a year, two to my primary, and two to my heart doctor to check on things.
LJJ: When you say preventative for you, are there preventative steps that they’re saying to you? This is what you need to do, keep your heart healthy, you’ve had open-heart surgery.
NS: You have to work out, they said you have to keep your heart strong, you have to keep pushing it, otherwise it becomes weak over time. You have to eat right.
I was never a big proponent of healthy eating, but it really does mess with your blood levels in your cholesterol and those all play a factor into your heart being strong, so you really have to take care of yourself, you have to live a healthy life for your heart to be healthy.
LJJ: Well that, just perfect words to end by.
So glad that you are sitting across from me today.
NS: Me too.
LJJ: Thank you so much.
NS: Thank you.
LJJ: Money I’m home, thanks for listening in today. Nate have a great week.