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Published on May 04, 2015

Heart Failure/COPD Wellness Clinic Helps Orland Park Man Regain Life

Shown left to right: Beth Murphy,
nurse with the Heart Failure/
COPD Wellness Clinic; Ron
Merkel, recent clinic patient;
Roy Bliley, M.D., cardiologist
with Heart care Centers of
Illinois; and Linda Hommes,
advanced practice nurse,
Heart Failure/COPD Wellness

Ron Merkel, 67, has been active all his life. From lifting weights to rollerblading, he would exercise hours at a time, but that changed a few months ago, when he started noticing shortness of breath.

A visit to his Palos Heights doctor, Zulfiqar Rizvi, M.D., revealed Atrial Fibrillation, an irregular and often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow to the body. Ron was referred to the Heart Care Centers of Illinois where he met with cardiologist Roy Bliley, M.D., and cardiac electrophysiologist Sean Tierney, M.D., where he was diagnosed with heart failure and admitted to Palos Community Hospital.

“I don’t like the word failure,” Ron says. “My diagnosis was a complete shock to me. I’ve never even been hospitalized before.”

During his stay at Palos, nearly 76 pounds of water were removed from his body. “I was gaining weight and not eating. My solution to my troubles was to go from a size 2XL to a 3XL,” he says.

Ron will be the first one to tell you he was being a “knucklehead.” When he was discharged, he was offered rehab, which he initially turned down. A few weeks later he found himself back in the hospital after passing out at home.

He was referred to Palos Community Hospital’s Heart Failure/COPD Wellness Clinic by Dr. Bliley. That’s when he met Linda Hommes, an Advanced Practice Nurse, and Beth Murphy, a nurse, with the Wellness Clinic.

“Linda and Beth are saints in my book,” Ron says. “They came to visit me in my room and we started talking about life after the hospital. They helped me prepare to deal with the monsters ahead.”

One of those monsters is sodium. Linda, Beth and Jennifer Koman, a registered dietitian, talked with Ron about the sodium in food and what to look out for. “I really watch what I eat now and I get lots of rest,” he says. “This was three months out of my life that I care not to repeat.”

Personalized Treatment

If you are living with heart failure of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may benefit from visiting the Heart Failure/COPD Wellness Clinic at Palos.

“Our team is dedicated to helping you stay as healthy as possible so you can stay where you want to be – home,” Linda explains. “For many, heart failure and/or COPD can be difficult to manage with the increased chance of hospital readmission and other complications. Our clinic is here to be a resource for you and your family members.”

The clinic offers personalized education to patients about their specific conditions, including speaking with a clinical pharmacist for medication education as well as a clinical dietitian for dietary advice.

“With the comprehensive medical and lifestyle management the Heart Failure Clinic has implemented, Ron will be able to return to his usual active lifestyle,” Dr. Bliley says.
Some people benefit from one visit while others benefit from additional visits.

“I look at what they are doing in the Heart Failure Clinic, and it’s so crucial,” Ron says. “It’s the follow-up to make sure you don’t go back to your old ways.”

‘Getting better and better’

Ron has taken steps to return to a “sense of normalcy” by completing rehab and graduating from a walker to a “shaky” cane to walking on his own.

“When you go through something like this, you realize how much you take for granted. I learned the hard way,” he says. “Every day I’m getting better and better.”

He hopes to soon return to one of his passions – competitive target shooting. “I have a goal to be on the firing range within two months shooting skeet. It looks like it may happen in a month now.”

Ron’s heart is now in rhythm, and a recent scan showed his ejection fraction went from 25 percent to 58 percent. The ejection fraction is an important measurement in determining how well the heart is pumping out blood and in diagnosing and tracking heart failure. The American Heart Association explains a normal heart’s ejection fraction may be between 55 and 70.

“A lot of my recovery had to do with the education and help I received from the Heart Failure/COPD Wellness Clinic, my support group, which is my family, and my tenacity,” he says. “There’s a light and the end of the tunnel. You just have to listen to the right people and not give up.”