Gary Petrozz was already on medication for heart failure, but he could still feel that something was wrong with his body. Doctors in his hometown of Lawrence, KS, prescribed him medication for his heart, but Gary felt there was a bigger problem. A friend recommended that he go to Saint-Luc, a suggestion that would eventually pay off.
Heart failure occurs when the heart does not pump blood around the body as well as it should. Blood and fluids can back up into the lungs and parts of the body don’t get enough oxygen-rich blood to function normally. Gary, 70, first saw a cardiologist at another hospital who prescribed him medication for heart failure. The side effects, however, only made Gary worse.
“When I had the [doctor] visits, I would tell them I felt weak and tired like I couldn’t do anything,” Gary said. “The prescription says it can cause irregular heartbeats and make my heart worse. Maybe I’m taking the wrong things.
The doctor adjusted Gary’s prescription and thought he might need a defibrillator. A few months later, Gary went to the emergency room for shortness of breath. Her chest X-ray and blood tests came back clear, and they told her to make another appointment with her cardiologist. Gary told the doctor that he felt his condition was getting worse rather than better, and the doctor changed his prescription again.
One day, one of Gary’s fishing friends bumped into him at the store and asked how he was doing. Gary told her he felt bad. His health had declined to the point where he could not do most of his daily tasks without feeling devastated. He even had to prop himself up with two pillows while lying down just to help him breathe.
His friend said he had to go to Saint Luke’s in Kansas City. Gary did some initial research online and opted to schedule an appointment with Saint Luke’s cardiologist, Anthony Magalski, MD. However, Gary ended up in the Saint Luke emergency department before this appointment.
Gary suffered cardiogenic shock, a condition caused by heart failure where the heart’s inability to pump enough blood to vital organs becomes so severe that it becomes fatal. He called his daughter and asked her to take him to the emergency room. This time they drove over an hour to Saint Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City. He was admitted for a week in April 2021 where he was seen by cardiologists Bethany Austin, MD, and Taiyeb Khumri, MD.
“We could see from his lab work that his kidneys and liver weren’t working normally because they weren’t getting the blood flow they needed,” Dr. Austin said. “We went in using a catheter to measure his ejection fraction, and he was definitely in critical condition.”
Ejection fraction (EF) measures the amount of blood the heart pumps. A normal EF is 55-70%. Gary was at 10%.
But why would Gary’s meds make his heart worse? Dr. Austin said there are so many variations of cardiomyopathy and heart failure medications that each patient will have a different combination that works for them. Finding the right one is done by trial and error. Gary’s medications at the time clearly weren’t right for him.
Doctors at Saint Luke changed Gary’s medication completely and put him on a LifeVest, which is a wearable defibrillator. He went for a follow-up appointment with Dr. Khumri a week after his discharge and said he felt much better. He could breathe better, he wasn’t as tired, and he passed the stress test. Gary then did 12 weeks of rehabilitation. When it was time to settle down with a primary cardiologist in September 2021, Gary opted to see Dr. Magalski.
“I think we can safely say, at least at this point, that he’s out of the danger zone where he would need something more aggressive like a heart transplant or an implantable heart pump,” said Dr. Magalsky. “The story here is what we like to call ‘success with failure.’ He had heart failure, but now he is better and back to normal life, which is really satisfying.
On his first visit after rehab, Gary’s EF improved to 27. He continued to improve and reached 48 by the end of 2021, a much healthier and near normal number.
“I can do anything now,” Gary said. “I could mow the grass or walk two miles on the treadmill without getting tired. I’m not out of breath or sweating or anything. I could come and go as I pleased. Just like that.”
Gary continues to have follow-up appointments with Dr. Magalski and his heart is getting a little better every day now that he has found the right healthcare team.
“If you’re unsure about your doctor’s suggested medical treatment or diagnosis, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion,” Dr. Magalski said. “This may be the thing that will save your life.”
Learn more about Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute – Ranked among the nation’s top 25 cardiology and cardiac surgery hospitals by US News & World Report.