Terry Sanders did not slow down for much, and in his 47-year career as a land surveyor, hardly anything had that effect. Almost two years ago, the 68-year-old from Parker felt a slight pain in his …
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Terry Sanders did not slow down for much, and in his 47-year career as a land surveyor, hardly anything had that effect.
Almost two years ago, the 68-year-old from Parker felt a slight pain in his chest and visited his primary care doctor.
“I was in pretty good shape, I thought,” Sanders said.
Sanders finally ditched the last of his heart medication in early October, concluding a battle with a life-threatening condition that started with that slight chest pain.
Sanders, a fit Colorado outdoorsman, reflected on his journey to the Parker Chronicle:
“If you start feeling not yourself and start finding it's getting difficult to do different things … I would take care of it immediately,” he said.
Sanders worked relatively unabated through the summer of 2019 and made his usual hikes through steep, rough mountain terrain.
But in September 2019, Sanders hit a wall. He ran out of breath more rapidly on hikes. Working outside became a challenge. Sanders decided he could no longer match the rigorous physical demands of his job of nearly half a century, and he retired.
Sanders visited a cardiologist, who told him he was surprised he didn't have a stroke. Doctors discovered a leak in a valve of Sanders' heart, called an atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation (a-fib) is not necessarily a structural problem with the heart, but is a condition that causes irregular heartbeat, which can cause strokes, blood clots or heart failure. A-fib can be caused by stress or certain medications. A cardiologist will typically prescribe blood thinners for treatment.
Dr. Jenifer Hanna, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Medical Center of Aurora, treated Sanders, and believes her industry counterparts are failing to properly prognose a-fib.
“I think it's become so routine for people to treat a-fib in this sort of fashion,” Hanna said. “Had someone not done a really thorough job investigating why he had a-fib, he could have had a bad outcome or a bad valve disease.”
Treatment for a-fib varies based on severity. Those with small a-fib due to illness or stress likely do not need a major intervention, Hana said.
“There's plenty of ways to refer patients to have their a-fib dealt with that isn't a massively invasive operation,” Hanna said.
Hanna recommends people contact a cardiologist if they have visited only a primary care doctor and are taking blood thinner medications. For patients already seeing a cardiologist, Hanna said the next step is to ask if there is any treatment that will help regulate your heartbeat.
“Us, as surgeons, if someone sends us a patient with a bad valve with a-fib, we should not just ignore it,” Hana said. “In our own community, as surgeons it's important for us to realize we even understand treatment of a-fib.”
Sanders had an invasive operation where, as he described, doctors scraped the inner lining of his heart. Doctors prescribed him medication as he recovered. Sanders fully recovered in October 2019.
Sanders is now back at work, hiking mountains, marking fence locations and spending hours doing the job he loves.
“I owe Dr. Hana my life,” Sanders said.
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