Heart procedure patients become close friends at Edgerton Hospital

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Jim Dayton
Sunday, April 30, 2017

EDGERTON—Installing left ventricular assist devices for heart failure patients isn't a common procedure.

Edgerton Hospital is one of only three medical facilities in the state that offer inpatient rehabilitation for those who have had the surgery. In its two years offering the rehab program, the hospital has only served four patients recovering from assist device installation, said Sunny Bowditch, the hospital's marketing manager.

So it was odd that two of those four patients rehabbed together recently. Ken Olander and Don Reed both had surgery March 17 at UW Hospital in Madison, and later supported each other during the grueling two-a-day rehab therapy in Edgerton.

The surgery is for patients whose left ventricles can no longer sufficiently pump blood throughout the body, causing severe illness. The assist device is a fist-sized pump installed in the abdomen that helps circulate blood to where it needs to be, said  Sue Kindschi, cardiopulmonary services manager.

In rehab, Olander and Reed worked their arms on hand bikes, stretched with large rubber bands and used rolling pins to flatten thick putty. For 90 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the afternoon, they worked to regain their strength and stamina.

“They make you work,” Olander said. “It's not just sitting there. You're working.”

The two men, who had their surgeries back-to-back in Madison, became close friends in rehab. Neither expected to be there with someone who knew exactly what they were going through.

Olander's heart problems began in 1985 when he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. Doctors told him he might need a heart transplant, but his heart endured for more than 30 years before his condition worsened several months ago, he said.

“You can't exert yourself very much. Your energy level is low. Your breathing is shallow,” he said. “Many nights I couldn't even sleep.”

Olander, a Janesville resident, said his heart was within days of finally giving out. That's similar to Reed, who said doctors told him he needed a pump within two weeks to survive.

Reed, who lives in Paris, Illinois, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure six years ago and got a pacemaker and defibrillator installed. He had no limits on his activities until he recently struggled to cut wood with his nephew, he said.

Olander was discharged from Edgerton Hospital last week. Reed, who had some complications after surgery, remains hospitalized, but doctors have assured him that all patients have different recovery timelines.

“It hasn't been an easy process,” Reed said. “But I definitely feel better than I did when I first got here. It takes time.”

Both men praised Edgerton's clinical staff for offering an intense and supportive rehab program. Their faith and unexpected friendship helped them persevere through rehab's emotional toll.

There was a point where Reed said he felt depressed and didn't think he could continue with the program. Olander helped him stay positive and regain his determination, Reed said.

Kindschi said it was rewarding to see two patients who shared an uncommon procedure help each other recover.

“It's very inspiring to see how quickly they bonded and how they helped motivate each other and how open they are with sharing their experience both physically and emotionally,” she said. “Imagine how emotional it is to have a mechanical pump running your heart and knowing your days would be numbered if you didn't have it.”

Reed and Olander will try to get on the heart transplant list once they are ready. And though Reed will eventually return to his small Illinois town, a six-hour drive away from Edgerton, the new friends plan on staying in contact with each other.

“I've got his address, he's got mine,” Reed said. “We're going to keep correspondence back and forth and send pictures to each other. That will be neat.”

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