Jan 9
donniegnickle , Posted on SUPPORT NETWORK Blog

Reversing Heart Failure-Mission NOT Impossible

When the echocardiogram technician with a troubled look on her face said, “I can’t find your heartbeat-it is so weak, I jokingly replied: “I know why, it is because I left my heart in San Francisco.” Nobody laughed. In May, 2016, A diagnosis of acute idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy (Stage 4 terminal congestive heart failure) was soon facing Arlington Heights resident and former educator Dr. Don Grossnickle and his family.


Don's story shows how a professional medical team working together in close partnership with a cooperative diligent patient can avoid unnecessary surgery and prevent early death that can come with a diagnosis of congestive heart failure. Just before surgical implant of a cardiac defibrillator, and following 155 days of exhaustive lifestyle changes were implemented, at the final hour the patient’s heart responded with what is called a “miracle reversal and remodeling.” Surgery was no longer needed and the symptoms reversed and heart restored to a normal status. What was the formula and how did this miracle come to life? Don Grossnickle attributes assembling a heart failure team as the key factor in successfully reversing his heart failure. Grossnickle and the team clearly call the results, “a kind of unexpected miracle.” Northwest Community Hospital: cardiologists, nurses at the NCH Atherton Heart Failure clinic, my NCH exercise physiologist, nutrition counselor, peer mentors, and ultimately a cardiac surgeon worked like a well-coached athletic team pursuing one goal: see if the heart disease could be arrested. Beginning In May 2016, I was voluntarily enrolled in the Atherton (Northwest Community Hospital) Heart Failure Clinic to get a crash course in cardiac diet, nutrition, weight loss. I became a full time student in order to learn about surviving heart failure. Also in May, I was putting on my sweat clothes and enrolled in the Northwest Community Hospital Cardiac Rehab program. At the NCH Rehab Center of the hospital, I was to learn about and participate at a 7 am program guided by the staff for cardiac exercise and professionally supervised changes in my lifestyle habits closely monitored by the entire team.  I had to work hard with a disciplined focus on exercise and diet. Essentially, I had to give up salt and alcohol. I had to restrict my daily intake of fluids in order to reduce the strain on my heart muscle. Dr Sita, my team quarterback mandated drastic weight loss. A three-mile dog daily walk with my wife was highly recommended. My whole life started each day by taking my prescribed dosages of potent heart medicines. I had to adjust attitude and motivation and deal with some depression and anger adjustments because of the stress connected with changing old well-worn habits. I bought into the need for an immediate shift to start leading a heart-healthy daily regimen. A daily nap helped manage the physical and mental strain. My new “heart healthy goal” was to see if my team and I could manage to somehow miraculously reverse the symptoms, remodel the structure of an enlarged heart and a deal with a leaky mitral valve. Mainly, we needed to energize a sluggish left ventricle pump that barely moved the blood sent there.  

Note: Research shows the importance of the heart patient taking charge and making a close personal connection with the cardiologist. In my case I was active in learning everything that I could to stay current with the latest viewpoints on doing what can be done to effect potential reversal. Attitude carries the day. Overcoming the weakness to return to old habits is tough. Daily exercise habits is tough. Having goals and charting progress is essential. It is clear that by asking the surgeon to rationalize the need for surgery avoided implanting when it was no longer needed. Self-study and self-management and following the directives of the professional staff in my case worked. 1. Prescribed heart medicine dosage: -Beta Blockers, Ace Inhibitors, Diuretics. Regular checkups. 2. Immediate withdrawal of toxic heart poisons like alcohol, limited salt. 3. Daily exercise of a 3 mile walk and regular participation in prescribed cardiac exercise program.
4. Diet and nutrition heart failure education program monitored by the Heart Failure Clinic staff including daily checking of diagnostic vital signs shared by the communication network with all the team. 5. Weight loss program. (40 pounds’ loss) 6. Cardiologist communication with all the team via hospital network (My chart to share diagnostic blood tests and echocardiogram etc) 7. Stress reduction training, anger management, depression counseling. Daily one hour rest-naptime. 8. Spiritual counseling and encouragement, meditation, prayer. 9. Participation in 2 peer support networks connected with the heart failure clinic and cardiac rehab program. 10. Spouse, family, friend support and encouragement.11. Close partnership of patient and cardiologist-team director who acts as “quarterback” directing the program and counsel. 12. Attitude, persistence, determination, motivation, moving toward goals including the desire to have a clear reason for living. As this story illustrates congestive heart failure is a tough disease to beat. It is a disease that requires effort and professional assistance from a highly competent team in order to achieve positive results. There are many interactive keys that together appear to have played a part and thus contributed. Perhaps just not one single factor alone can be said to have been the dynamic which accomplished the ultimate reversal. The future requires the same discipline that seemed to lead to the hoped for reversal. Letting go of the former “me” is not difficult any longer. New habits have been gained through hard work. The results are very positive and I feel very fortunate and thankful for this second chance gift. I do hope that my story can be helpful and encouraging for others. I take delight participating in the peer support groups offering a listening ear and encouragement.Contact: dgrossnick@aol.com

  • Raiz_Ali
    This is incredible stuff. Congratulations to you and your doctors. You people made many people believe that reversal is actually possible. Infact, it was because of your strong will that made the miracle come true. Twelve keys you presented would also work for a person like me with duagnosed recently with CAD, stent in RCA. Please enlight me. My best wishes for you for all coming days of your life.
  • Shastagirljen
    Thank you for sharing your story! It was so encouraging to read. Also, I'm from Arlington Heights (now living in Texas).
  • reader1944
    Thank you for this. I have a different type of heart failure but it is so encouraging to read. I has motivated me to dig into some of the changes I need to make.
  • china1127
    This is an absolutely amazing story. And it is so similar to mine. I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in October 2013 after recovering from a pulmonary embolism earlier in the same year. All at the age of 39. I spent the next two and half years seeing a cardiologist and oncologist to keep me on the path of recovery. However, in January 2016 I was told that I would need an implanted defibrillator. I spent the next few months wearing a Life Vest (wearable defibrillator) and preparing my mind and my family for the upcoming surgery. A day before my surgery there was a mix up with my insurance which postponed the procedure. In the meantime, my cardiologist decided to do one more echo just to see what my heart function was. Thanks be to God, my heart was functioning back in the normal range. He immediately called off my surgery. I am still under the care of both specialists, but I feel better than ever with a few down days here and there. But, nonetheless, thankful to be alive. Thank you for sharing your miraculous story!
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