New gizmo may have saved Mercy exec's life

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Monday, October 6, 2008
— Rich Gruber thought he was in good health.

His family has a history of deadly heart disease, but he had always watched his diet.

He was a light smoker, but he had no overt symptoms.

He has a type-A personality, but his cholesterol numbers were good, and he wasn't overweight.

Yet he now describes his condition as "a walking heart attack." Arteries that keep his heart fed with fresh blood were clogging.

Gruber is a vice president for the Janesville-based Mercy Health System, so he's heard it all before: Men tend to ignore their health and don't often receive the regularly medical checkups and tests recommended as they age. He was one of those men.

His change of heart began when Gruber and his wife, Lee, were at a fundraiser at Rotary Botanical Gardens.

They were talking with Jere Johnson, Mercy's head of radiology, and Johnson's wife about a new gizmo Mercy bought last January.

CT scanners are not new, but this state-of-the-art CT scanner with "64-slice" technology provides much sharper images, giving cardiologists great views of the coronary arteries. The images can show blockages and calcium buildup, which can cause heart attacks.

"It's really incredible, the clarity you get from the 64-slice process," Rich said in a telephone interview from his home last week. "You get a three-dimensional image."

Mercy execs are invited to test new technology, Rich said. So when Lee heard what the new machine could do, she pestered Rich until he agreed to get the test done.

On Sept. 9, a few days after his 55th birthday and without any symptoms, Rich lay down on the table and was slid through the doughnut-shaped scanner. The painless process takes about 20 minutes.

The results weren't good. He quit smoking on the spot. Doctors scheduled him for a cardiac catherization Sept. 15.

The catherization involved threading tools up the femoral artery to the heart, providing doctors a good look at any arterial blockage. The same procedure can include inserting balloons or stents to open a clog.

Or, the catherization can show that the heart disease is so far advanced that only bypass surgery can fix it.

Such was the case with Gruber. On Sept. 23, Mercy doctors opened his chest, cut artery grafts from his leg and mammary arteries, and used those grafts to bypass four clogged heart arteries.

The quadruple bypass surgery went well. Gruber was home four days later.

Still ahead: four to six weeks of recuperation, which will include diet, exercise and stress management, he said.

Gruber was effusive in his praise of the skill Mercy surgeons and the quality of care provided by the entire staff. It's his job to promote Mercy, but he said his assessment of Mercy's superior care is based on frequent observations of other hospitals around the country.

"For me, there was no reason to go anywhere else," Gruber said.

Gruber said he was reluctant to go public with his story, but in the end he was persuaded that it would be worth it if he could convince other men to do what they so often do not do: develop a relationship with a doctor and get checked out.

As for himself, Gruber sounds happy. He is looking forward to a new chapter in his life.

"I'm a firm believer that there's a reason for everything, and this was probably the ultimate birthday gift, truly," he said. "They don't make 'em any finer than the opportunity to extend your life a little bit longer."

Last updated: 10:47 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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