Feb 112013


“The services and people at the heart failure clinic are great.”

Allen Stanford

heart patient

By Michael Abramowitz

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Allen Stanford has a big heart, in love and in life. In matters of love, a big heart is a wonderful attribute. In medical terms, not so much.

The 78-year-old retired building inspector married the love of his life, Karen, on Sept. 9. Stanford also has congestive heart failure, which causes heart enlargement and organ dysfunction, and has kept him closely connected to hospitals since the mid 1990s. His story is being showcased by the East Carolina Heart Institute at Vidant Medical Center during Heart Failure Awareness Week, which begins today.

The week is part of February’s National Heart Month.

Stanford learned he had a heart condition in 1972 when he had a physical exam upon his retirement from the military. His doctor told him he had a heart murmur and put him on a penicillin regimen.

“He told me I’d have to take it for the rest of my life,” Stanford said.

He had his first heart attack in the 1990s while running a business he started in Greenville.

“I was lucky because if they (the hospital) hadn’t been here then, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Stanford said.

Stanford had valve replacement surgery following his heart attack. It was the first time he learned about congestive heart failure.

“My heart wasn’t pumping the way it was supposed to. They told me if I didn’t do something I would drown in my own blood. I had faith in my doctors, so I knew everything would be alright,” he said.

Stanford has been in the heart institute’s heart failure program since 2011, under the care of a multi-disiplinary team of physicians, nurses and nurse practitioners, pharmacists, dieticians and other specialists focused on heart care, led by Dr. John Cahill.


Heart failure is a progressive and incurable condition, except when the cause is viral and can be reversed through anti-viral medications, the doctor said.


“Most of the instances we see are from coronary disease, where heart attack causes tissue scarring, which is irreversible,” Chaill said. “What we can do, though, is make the remaining muscle pump better, reversing the course of the disease or halting its progress and the associated symptoms. But the heart’s ability to repair itself is somewhat limited.”


Managing heart failure is vital to sustaining the best quality of life possible. To do that, the heart failure team works in close collaboration with patients and families, said Angela Mayo, the heart institute’s manager of heart failure services.


“We’re here to support them being the best they can be, wherever they are in their heart condition,” Mayo said. “We communicate regularly, daily, if necessary, to keep up on weight changes, medicine schedule, diet and prescription changes and balances. I think that responsiveness helped him to find success at home. Prior to this program he might have had to come into the hospital more frequently.”


The Stanfords manage Allen’s life carefully. He takes a regular dose of an anti-coagulant and has his blood drawn every 15-20 days to check for its effectiveness. He also takes diuretics to help his body release fluids and hold off or minimize congestive buildup as much as possible.


“Taking medications is not hard to do if you just make up your mind that it’s what you have to do,” Allen Stanford said. “I get up in the morning and my pills are laid out in my pill box for each day and time. I need to keep fluids from building up in my heart, and if I don’t take another of my medications to regulate my heartbeat, my (implanted) defibrillator goes off, and that’s no fun.”


Karen also helps manage Allen’s diet, weight and diabetes control and all his medicine dosages.


“I have my cellphone set to ring at 2 p.m. to keep his regimen regular, whether I’m out of house or out of town,” she said.


While Karen keeps Allen’s romantic heart happy, and his heart condition did not cause him any hesitation about marriage, Allen knew there would be necessary adjustments he and Karen would have to be clear about ahead of the nuptials.


“As long as you talk about all that up front, there’s no problem,” Allen Stanford said.


The couple were part of the heart failure program’s first support group, coordinated by a staff social worker and nurse.


“We realized it was an opportunity for patients to come together, share their stories and strategies and realize they’re not in this alone. At the end of the day, heart failure is just a small part of our patients’ lives,” Mayo said.


Allen Stanford credits his continuing success to his medical care team’s expertise and commitment.


“The services and people at the heart failure clinic are great,” Allen Stanford said. “The doctors are great, and the nurses are even better. I know they don’t have space for every single heart patient here, but if you can get into this program, you really should try to do that.”


Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9571.

via The Daily Reflector.


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