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Gerry Yumul is CardioSmart

Gerry Yumul didn't ignore the signs and symptoms of a heart problem. Instead, he worked with his care team to undergo the recommended and life-saving tests and procedures he needed. 

Deborah Flaherty-Kizer

Gerry Yumul life changed in early 2014 when he began experiencing discomfort in his chest. After being diagnosed with heart disease, Gerry underwent quintuple bypass surgery.

After his surgery, Gerry makes every effort to keep stress low. He also keeps an exercise log and uses a heart rate monitor that connects with his smartphone; he then shares this information with his cardiologist.

Gerry works at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation and is seen here with a team of MHIF's cardiovascular research nurses.
Gerry is flanked in this photo by his heart surgeon, Dr. Benjamin Sun, and physician's assistant Morgan Fulmer.

I have lived both the difficulties of having CVD and also the rewards of living a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Gerry Yumul: Coronary Artery Disease patient

What is your CardioSmart story?

Some people think that things in life happen for a reason. But I was more of a cause and effect person—at least before I had quintuple bypass surgery. When I left my job at a creative studio in the beginning of 2013, I pledged that if I went back to a full-time job again, it would be an organization with a purpose, that doesn’t just operate for the sake of profit. In Aug. 2013, I got a call from the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation (MHIF) for a job interview, and in November, I joined MHIF as their Marketing and Communications Specialist.

I was glad to have found an organization that was working to make a difference. After a few weeks, the Foundation’s mission, “To create a world without heart disease,” had become ingrained in my work life. February, which is American Heart Month, was a busy month at work. Valentine’s Day was especially busy, as we associated the holiday to heart health. The following day, a Saturday, I felt some chest discomfort and initially believed it to be stress-induced. From what I had learned at MHIF, exercise can reduce stress, so I did my usual morning cardio routine. The chest discomfort went away for a while, but it came back the next day. Around noon, I told my wife that I was going to run to urgent care and that I would be back in a few hours.

When I got to urgent care, I got triaged. Blood and vitals were taken. My blood pressure was high but it stabilized after a few hours. Around 6:30 p.m., I was discharged. Almost two weeks passed but I still felt mild chest discomfort, on and off. On the last day of February, I was scheduled to visit the dentist. At the dental office, I disclosed my chest pain and trip to urgent care, but the dentist said that I should be fine, as I wasn’t experiencing any unusual symptoms at that time. But when he injected Novocaine into my gums, I fainted, and was out for around 7 seconds. After I came to, the dentist strongly recommended that I go back to urgent care. My wife drove me to urgent care, where I got an ECG and was advised to see a cardiologist.

The following week I saw my first cardiologist, Dr. Luis Pagan-Carlo, MD, FACC. He took my vital signs, and then recommended that I get a stress test the following day. The test showed that my resting heart rate was fine, but my stressed heart rate was abnormal. I went back to my cardiologist and he strongly advised me to get a coronary angiogram and potentially an angioplasty as well. I was asked then to make a decision and consent to the procedure. This is when I think the knowledge gained from working at MHIF came into play. I wasn’t inclined to get any major heart procedure since I felt fine that day. But the symptoms and their potential consequences, which I had seen in a lot of MHIF communications materials, helped me decide that the smarter decision was to follow my cardiologist’s advice.

I was scheduled for an angiogram the next morning, with the possibility of getting a stent. All I remember from the morning is being wheeled to a room with a number of LCD monitors, and then waking up in a different room with my wife and son. My cardiologist later visited and told me what they saw in the angiogram. Apparently, I had 80 to 100% stenosis in my left anterior descending and right coronary artery. The “widow maker” artery was around 60% clogged and 30% in a few other spots. The recommendation was for me to get a coronary artery bypass graft at the soonest possible time. That was a Thursday, and the soonest I could have the bypass was Monday. I was expecting to go home for the weekend, but still had on and off chest discomfort. So I was moved to the Heart Hospital at Abbott Northwestern where I would be watched while waiting for the surgery.

It was somewhat nice because Abbott was on the same hospital campus where the MHIF office is located, so I was able to connect with my colleagues to hand off projects, cancel my travel plans to ACC.14 and, best of all, get visits from my coworkers who were at the office that day. On the day of the surgery, anxiety kicked in, but the caring and reassurance of the hospital staff helped me overcome my uncertainty. The last thing I remember before surgery was the anesthesiologist talking to me. The next thing I knew, I was in the ICU.

The recovery period was a huge learning experience for me. In cardiac rehab, I learned how to gradually regain my strength, to live a healthy lifestyle through good nutrition and stress management, to develop a way to cope with emotional challenges and appreciate the important things in life like family and friends. I also developed a strong sense of gratitude—for even the simplest things like the air we breathe and the physical strength I have. I guess that’s what you realize after experiencing what it’s like to be constantly dependent on others to perform even the most mundane tasks.

The recovery and health improvements I have made to date validate all my effort and perseverance in changing my lifestyle. I have lived both the difficulties of having CVD and also the rewards of living a heart-healthy lifestyle. I continue to follow through on my heart-healthy diet and exercise to achieve full recovery. Whoever planned all of these life events sure did a great job in convincing me that all things in life happen for a reason.

How do you work with your doctors and care team to stay on top of your heart condition?

I keep on top of all the recommended scheduled check-ups with my cardiologist and keep logs of anything that might be related to my condition. I also keep exercise logs using a heart rate monitor that connects to my smartphone and share that information with my cardiologist. I use an online tool called MyChart to communicate with my care team electronically. I can communicate anything at any time and get a prompt response, which helps me to stay on track.

What lifestyle changes did you make to improve your heart health?

One of the major lifestyle changes I made is to be mindful of the amount of work I take on, and to make sure to keep my stress level to a minimum. I tend to be a workaholic, and having a career in creative design and web development, I used to do a lot of projects on the side which often caused me to lose sleep. Although freelance projects have been financially rewarding, I have given those up—I value my health more than money.

What challenges do you face? How are you able to overcome them?

Food cravings and sleep deprivation still persist, but these types of challenges can always be mitigated by discipline. I occasionally get frustrated when I realize that I cannot do something I did before my surgery. This happens especially when I am active and feeling good, and then all of a sudden I hit my limit. Being mindful of my body and remaining positive helps me overcome both of these challenges. I’m still working on this skill, but always striving to improve it.

Who is your support system?

I’m fortunate to have a support system from both at home and at work. My wife loves to cook, and she is constantly finding new recipes to ensure that she prepares healthier meals for everyone. I can’t ask for a better workplace where everyone cares for you and has deep dedication for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. I have colleagues who are dietitians, cardiovascular nurse clinicians, and cardiologists who are always available to answer CVD-related questions, from trivial to technical.

Do you have a personal motto? What inspires you?

There’s always good in everything around us. There are a lot of things that inspire me on a daily basis, including the people that I work with at MHIF. Knowing that I’m a part of an organization with the goal of creating a world without heart disease keeps me inspired to go to the office every day. My role is small in this ambitious effort, but it’s motivating to know that my work is helping to make someone’s life better.

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