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Published on August 20, 2018

Charlie Larson in front of tractor

Heart experts help Charlie 'keep on truckin'

Truck driver and antique tractor enthusiast Charlie Larson of Pigeon, Wis., was seven years into retirement when he started experiencing chest pain.

"I first noticed the chest pain while shoveling snow, so I'd sit down and take it easy," recalls Charlie, who was also bothered at times by an upset stomach and achy arms. For about a year, the chest pain continued when Charlie was active.

While remodeling their deck in 2016, Charlie's wife, Janice, noticed how often he needed to sit down and rest. She suggested that he get checked out. Charlie scheduled an appointment at the Gundersen Tri-County Whitehall Clinic, where Family Medicine physician David Lofgren, MD, ordered a nuclear stress test. The results showed that certain areas of Charlie's heart were not getting enough oxygen-rich blood.

Charlie was referred to Gundersen Health System cardiologist Mir Subla, MD, in La Crosse for additional testing and an angioplasty to open the blockages. However, plans changed quickly when Dr. Subla discovered multiple blockages in Charlie's coronary arteries. He needed open heart surgery for a quadruple bypass—commonly called coronary artery bypass graft (CABG).

Detour ahead

Being laid up from heart surgery was unwelcome news for the now 77-year-old, who stays busy driving truck and tractor for a neighboring farmer, collecting antique tractors, puttering in his workshop and keeping a small garden.

Charlie took the news in stride. On Dec. 12, 2016, Gundersen cardiothoracic surgeon Sajjad Rizvi, MD, performed CABG surgery on Charlie—one of more than 300 open heart and minimally invasive procedures Gundersen heart specialists perform annually.

"They had me up walking the day after surgery," recalls Charlie. Within one week, he was at home recovering.

Shifting gears

To help regain his strength and stamina, Charlie attended Cardiac Rehabilitation at Gundersen Tri- County Hospital and Clinics for the next eight weeks.

"I live about 50 miles from La Crosse, so going to Cardiac Rehab in Whitehall saved me a lot of time," notes Charlie, who went to therapy three times per week.

The Cardiac Rehabilitation program is intended for individuals following heart surgery, heart attack or other heart problems. "We provide medically supervised activity, ongoing monitoring, education about maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle, and are in close contact with the patient's cardiology team," says Robin Thesing, RN, who oversees the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at Gundersen Tri-County.

"During my first week of cardiac rehab, Robin said we'd go for a walk and away she went! I told her I don't have to walk that fast now that I'm retired," jokes Charlie. By the time he completed the program, Charlie had no problems keeping pace with Robin.

"The Cardiac Rehab program in Whitehall is very good. I walk two to three miles a day and have not had any chest pain since."

For Charlie, that means he can be right where he wants to be—on the road and in the field, driving truck and tractor.

To learn more about Cardiac Rehabilitation in Whitehall, go to

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