Cardiac Rehab Helps Dan Fulfill Bucket List Dreams

February 2, 2017

From his appearance, Dan Ludwig is probably not what most people would think of as a typical cardiac patient. Yet this fit, athletic man in his early sixties underwent open heart surgery just a year and a half ago. He had four bypasses.

A couple months before, Dan had begun to notice some troubling symptoms. “I would feel throbbing in my neck when going for a walk,” he noted, “but it would only last for about 60 seconds and then it would be gone.” He also began experiencing some pain in his armpit and pressure and pain in his chest. The symptoms were fleeting, but they were concerning enough that he went to see his family doctor, who immediately sent him to a cardiologist. Three days later, Dan underwent open heart surgery.

Even though his father had a quadruple bypass when he was nearly the same age as Dan was, his own heart disease came as somewhat of a surprise. “I thought I was going to beat it,” he reflects. “My dad owned his own business, worked 80 hours a week, and was a heavy smoker. I’m a non-smoker and was a runner, a triathlete. I played hockey. I canoed, I skied, I hiked.”

“The main artery around my heart was 99% blocked,” explains Dan. “It’s a scary situation. Before the surgery, the doctors talked to me about the numbers, about the percentages of success. You go into the surgery knowing there’s a chance you might not wake up. But I had other things in life I wanted to accomplish. I had a bucket list planned and I wasn’t ready to give that up.”

That bucket list motivated Dan to get back on his feet. He retired from his job and began cardiac rehab at Watertown Regional Medical Center.

“My body felt like it had been hit by a freight train,” Dan recalls. “Cardiac rehab got me into a routine of taking baby steps every day.” Being at a hospital and connected to monitoring equipment while he exercised provided a level of comfort for Dan while he got used to the differences in his body. Being a lifelong athlete, he was used to pushing himself beyond his physical comfort level. The exercise physiologists in WRMC’s cardiac rehab program, who he describes as “professional and personable,” were supportive of his efforts. “They encouraged me to explore how fast and how far I could go.”

One of the most significant changes to come from his participation in WRMC’s cardiac rehab program, says Dan, is a healthier diet. Before his heart surgery, “I thought my diet was pretty good,” Dan remembers. But learning more about nutrition, especially how nutritional requirements change as we age, made him realize that he had developed some bad habits. “You think you’re doing the right thing, but you’ve only been getting one to two fruits or vegetables a day when you really should be getting five or six.” Dan’s new knowledge of nutrition and change in diet has also spurred his interest in learning how to cook. “I’m learning how to cook with ginger and garlic and cook fish. It’s fun.”

Dan has come far in the year and a half since his heart surgery. He continues to work out at Wellness Works three times a week and is physically active on the weekends. Since his surgery, Dan has completed a biathlon with his daughter, has summited a 10,000-foot peak in Glacier Park with his son, and has completed the Kortelopet, an 18-mile cross-country ski race. In a few months, he’ll be traveling to Ireland with friends for a week of cycling through the Irish countryside.

Dan says he feels better now than he has in ten years. “It’s wonderful to be able to do what I did at 50,” he affirms. He is also grateful to have gotten to work on his bucket list and to be able to share those experiences with his family. “Why did God give me this extra time on earth? I don’t know. If I can be a productive citizen, a good husband, a good father, and someday a good grandfather, hopefully that will be enough.”