By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Larry Hatteberg, a retired television anchor who now makes videos for businesses, was testing a camera when he suddenly became lightheaded.
“I never get lightheaded,” he said. “This sort of came as a bolt out of the blue.”
Because it was so unusual, Larry checked in with his family physician, who had him undergo a stress test. Within 30 minutes of completing the test, his doctor called with startling news, telling him, “You’re going to have a heart attack.”
Larry, who had no family history of heart problems, was in Kansas Heart Hospital the next day for a heart catheterization procedure to examine how well his heart was working. Afterward, a surgeon told him he had at least 80 percent blockage in three arteries. The doctor gave him two choices: Do nothing and die. Or have open-heart surgery, Larry recalled.
The choice was clear. “Let’s go behind Door Number Two,” he said.
His surgery was scheduled quickly – four days later – but Larry worried about something dreadful happening before the operation.
“You do feel like you have this time bomb strapped to your chest,” he said.
The 73-year-old Larry wasn’t as anxious about the surgery itself. He trusted his doctors and remained calm, a trait he’d acquired from more than 50 years as an anchorman for KAKE, the ABC television station in Wichita, Kansas. He retired in 2014.
After his seven-hour surgery at Wesley Medical Center, as he regained consciousness, his daughter whispered, “Dad, you had seven bypasses.”
“I thought, well, seven is a lot,” Larry said. “I felt lucky to be alive.”
He was in the hospital for five days after his August operation. His wife, Judy, and two daughters, Sherry Hatteberg Hilger and Susan Hatteberg Dyer, were there to help when he went home and began the road to recovery.
“It was just a wonderful family reunion,” he said. “It’s great to be surrounded by family.”
Judy was a calming influence and key to his recuperation, he said.
The two were high school sweethearts and have been married 52 years. Judy said she’s conscious of health, exercise and eating right. She’s always made sure they ate plenty of chicken, salmon and vegetables.
Now, the couple is trying to avoid butter, bacon and cheese and to reduce salt. Her husband’s post-surgery healthy eating regimen, Judy said, “helped me get back on track.”
Judy said it’s an uneasy feeling to know that arteries can be clogged even if everything seems all right in a medical checkup, as happened in her husband’s case.
Since his surgery, Larry has participated in a cardiac rehabilitation program, with sessions three days per week exercising on a treadmill and stationary bike, and using weights while having his heart monitored.
Another big post-surgery step was talking publicly about his surgery. Larry wrote a detailed Facebook post explaining what he’d been through. He contacted the American Heart Association, too, to share his story to help others.
“[Heart disease] just came upon me like a thief in the night,” he said. “If I can help other people, great.”
The NBC affiliate television station in Wichita featured Larry in a news story about stress tests. He’s also made several speeches in which he told of his medical experience.
“It can happen to you,” he warns audience members, urging them to get stress tests as advised by their doctors. “Listen to your body. … You don’t know where it will lead.”
Like many others, Larry said, he hadn’t been conscious of heart health. He is thankful his family doctor noticed a “blip” on his stress test that led to his diagnosis and surgery.
“I took my heart for granted,” he said. “I wasn’t smart, but I was lucky.”
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