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Tom Waltz recently celebrated Go RED Day with Cardiac Rehab Director Nora Munson and Andrea Ryan, RN

It started out small—mild symptoms brought on by carrying outdoor furniture in for the winter last October. This job, one that was normally accomplished without incident, required Boscobel resident Tom Waltz to stop and rest. While it brought some concern, Tom found himself thinking, "This can't happen to me." So he went on about his life.

A day later, Tom found himself in the Gundersen Boscobel Urgent Care, as he was continuing to experience the same fatigue triggered by things he was previously able to do without incident. Still, he had no chest pain or pressure, just weakness and shortness of breath. 

Hospitalist Dr. Paul Mariskanish ("Dr. Paul") was on duty that day. The blood work he ordered indicated that Tom had either had or was still in the midst of having a mild heart attack. So, he quickly found himself in an ambulance on the way to a more advanced cardiac care center.

Tom's cardiologist's initial plan was to proceed with a heart catheterization and he was hopeful his circulation could be improved by placing stents into his heart, but his blockages were worse than had first been thought. There were blocked arteries off of the main artery that would need to be corrected surgically. Four days later, on November 8, Tom underwent coronary artery bypass surgery to repair three arteries.

Tom was discharged on Day 4 of what had been predicted to be a five to seven day stay. In his own words, he had "quite a remarkable recovery." He was very determined, especially after having been a kidney donor for his brother in 2000. "That experience had been very hard on my family, and had caused a lot of stress—particularly on my kids." His family had not realized the real danger of a transplant, so Tom's mission was to make his heart attack and bypass surgery less stressful on everyone. To accomplish this goal, he did what his doctors recommended…and more. And his positive attitude was the driving force.

Once back in Boscobel, Tom began his road to recovery, soon returning to Gundersen Boscobel to start Cardiac Rehab. Tom worked closely with Nora Munson, Director, as well as Andrea Ryan, Registered Nurse. "I didn't know Nora or Andrea in advance. That's not what took me there. I'm just an 'in-town' person, a loyal Boscobel resident, and I believe that, if you can do something in town, you should. It's just a small town philosophy," Tom explained. But, when he and his wife, Pam, had their initial meeting with Nora, he shared, "We couldn't have been more impressed. Nora was thorough, detailed, and a better listener than anyone we had dealt with in the entire process. And Andrea was just as thorough. We had total confidence in them both. It was a great feeling right from the start." The Cardiac Rehab staff provided education and goals for Tom's healthy recovery. 

Tom wasn't hesitant to share his feelings about the hospital from five or so years ago: "There were definitely some negative feelings, but there has been a 100% turnaround in every setting with the great work of all the staff at Gundersen Boscobel. Everything has become more positive, more family–oriented, and you can just feel it."

Although he had one setback, Dr. Paul was again quickly able to get Tom back on track. In his journey, Tom also had the opportunity to learn from Chris Swan, Dietician.

After nearly 36 visits, typically coming three times each week, Tom recently "graduated" from Cardiac Rehab. "Tom was not only able to leave recovered from his surgery, but he was in better physical condition than he was prior to his heart attack event," Nora proclaimed. "He was very motivated to make lifestyle changes and took the program seriously," Andrea added.

In his final interview, Nora reminded Tom the importance of 'knowing his numbers.' "I know I've got to keep track of myself. I'm much more aware of things now, much more educated about health and diet. I've got to make different choices. Awareness is the key. My biggest fear of leaving the program is accountability. I've got to continue to keep these lifestyle changes—especially now that I won't be coming here," Tom shared. Nora concurs. "It's not just what you do during your cardiac rehab. It's how you can maintain these lifestyle challenges six months from now…in one year…in five years…and beyond."

In conclusion, Tom stated, "They definitely know what they're doing. Their caring exceeded all expectations." Tom's wife, Pam, added, "We were very impressed with the whole process. Everything at the hospital seems to be improving."

Tom looks forward to continuing his journey toward staying healthy at the local 24-hour fitness center, where he and Pam can both participate and support each other in their fitness goals. He has left many fond memories behind at Gundersen Boscobel: "Tom was a pleasure to work with and made huge strides in his recovery from bypass surgery. Most importantly, he has become knowledgeable in ways to reduce his risk for future heart disease concerns," Nora concluded.



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