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Huron man learns that heart disease can affect even the physically fit

Posted: Monday, Feb 25th, 2013

Shown is Tim Buddenhagen, going for his daily run. Buddenhagen thought because he was physically fit that he would not have to worry about heart disease. But on November 30, 2012, he began experiencig symptoms of a heart attack. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED

When Tim Buddenhagen started experiencing fatigue while training for the Chicago Marathon last summer, he attributed it to getting older.

The 49-year-old Huron Tiger boys’ basketball coach and PE teacher was used to running 50 to 65 miles a week, but struggled to have the energy for long runs and had a hard time catching his breath while exercising.

“I thought I’m getting older, not running as well anymore and getting slower,” said Buddenhagen. “I would be really tired at the end of runs and needed longer to recuperate between them.”

On October 7, 2012, he ran his seventh career marathon in Chicago, Illinois, in just over 3 hours and 30 minutes. However, by the end of the month, the fatigue he had been experiencing increased and included stomach pain, nausea and sweating.

“I just thought I had a touch of the stomach flu,” Buddenhagen explained. “So, I’d take a few more days off. By Thanksgiving week, I had worked my way back up and was putting in some good miles.”

On the morning of November 30, he got up and worked out. Then during a 5:30 a.m. basketball practice, he went into the locker room because the stomach pain was back, he was sweating profusely and had some tightness in his chest.

After a few minutes of rest, he felt better and decided he could make it through practice. Afterwards, he called Nancy Balvin, CNP, his healthcare provider, and explained his symptoms and she told him to come to her office right away.

“She recognized the symptoms as a heart attack, called the hospital and a cardiologist in Sioux Falls, and sent me over to the emergency room at Huron Regional Medical Center,” said Buddenhagen. “I didn’t really think it was anything major. But Nancy obviously thought something was wrong, so I thought I better get it checked out.”

“I told Tim these symptoms are a big warning sign, we need to follow up and see a cardiologist because you could have another one of these events,” said Balvin. “You probably have a blockage and we need to find out where it is.”

While Buddenhagen was in the ER, he had a second heart attack, which confirmed Balvin’s suspicions. The ER staff stabilized him and started IV treatment while the emergency air transport was en route from Sioux Falls.

Buddenhagen was flown to the Sanford Heart Hospital where Dr. Marian Petrasko performed angioplasty and placed a stent in his left-anterior descending (LAD) coronary artery, also known as the widow maker, which was 90 percent blocked.

“The whole time in the ER and during surgery, I am never thinking I am going to die – I never thought I would pass away that day. After the cardiologist came to my room and told me about the blockage and where it was, I knew it was serious,” said Buddenhagen. “After the fact, you’re thinking – this is a miracle, I feel very fortunate. I got great care here and great care in Sioux Falls, so I was in good hands.”

Fortunately, Buddenhagen doesn’t have permanent damage from the multiple heart attacks, which doctors attribute to his excellent physical condition and healthy lifestyle.

Prior to the heart attack, his blood pressure was good but his LDL, or bad cholesterol, was 119, which is slightly above optimal (100 or less) heading toward borderline high.

“For me, it was genetics. I didn’t know it before, but my grandfather had heart disease and had his first heart attack when he was only 47. He died of a stroke when he was 65,” said Buddenhagen.

“Plus, I didn’t realize the stomachache was a heart symptom – I didn’t have crushing chest pain or pain in my arm or jaw. In hindsight, I can see the fatigue, sweating and stomach pain were my body’s way of telling me something was wrong.

“I’ve always taken good care of myself, but since the heart attack I’ve learned that diet is very important – so, now we eat more chicken and fish and lots of fruits and raw vegetables,” said Buddenhagen. “I’ve had to cut out the potato chips, frozen pizza and all the quick and easy things to just grab and go. It’s a major change for me not to eat at the concession stand or a fast food burger after the game.”

Buddenhagen graduated from HRMC’s cardiac rehabilitation program on February 13, and will continue to work with Balvin and Dr. Petrasko to monitor his heart health. He takes medications to control his cholesterol and a baby aspirin each day.

“Tim does look like the picture of good health, but we can’t be fooled by that. I am a big believer in heart screens,” said Balvin. “Women, especially, are under the assumption that [heart disease] doesn’t happen to them. Cardiac-wise, people need to look at their family history, blood pressure, weight, physical activity and cholesterol levels and be proactive.”

As for his future, Buddenhagen has a goal to run at least one more marathon. He has this message for others,

“It wasn’t working out that caused the heart attack – that saved me because one side of the heart took over for the other. You need to be aware of your family history and know all of the symptoms,” said Buddenhagen. “If you have something that hurts from the shoulders down – go get it checked out!”

For the complete article see the 02-23-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 02-23-2013 paper.

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