Over Memorial Day weekend in 2022, Dan Ortmann woke up in the middle of the night to chest pains. “It’ll go away,” he said. Dan and his wife Linda carried on with their morning and prepared to leave the house for Saturday graduation parties. When Dan realized the pains were not going away, they made the smart decision to go to the Emergency Room.
Dan was having a heart attack.
A Serious Reckoning
Emergency Department staff at Windom Area Health (WAH) identified signs of a heart attack and moved quickly. “Everyone came in and knew exactly what to do,” Dan recalled of the nursing team. Dan was life-flighted to Sioux Falls, where doctors detected three blockages. A stent was placed, after which Dan had immediate relief.
The weekend was a blur, but one thing was for sure: Dan needed to take control of his health. “I can honestly say, it scared me,” he shared. “I was thankful that I got a second chance,” said Dan, recalling a few emotional moments with his wife.
Cardiologist Dr. Jonsson, who provides Outreach services at WAH, recommended that Dan get connected with WAH’s outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation program. He and Linda agreed that it was time to seriously consider lifestyle changes.
The following Wednesday, Dan was already back to work as Director of Retail at Staples Oil, Inc. His boss, Brent Staples, pulled him aside to encourage a work/life balance. Dan has spent many years driving for work, and his on-the-road lifestyle didn’t exactly encourage healthy habits. “Most of my meals were snacks and convenience store food,” he admitted. Not only were his eating and exercise habits unchecked, he neglected managing his diabetes. To him, the heart attack was a wake-up call.
Cardiac Rehabilitation Journey
In mid-June 2022, Dan had his first appointment with Lacy Krueger, Cardiac Rehabilitation Coordinator at WAH. “I didn’t know anything about Cardiac Rehab,” Dan recalled about his initial consult. Right away, he felt welcomed and empowered to make changes. “Lacy is wonderful. She walked me through all the steps about what Cardiac Rehab was.”
Cardiac Rehabilitation is an individualized and personalized treatment plan, with evaluation and instruction on physical activity, nutrition, stress management and other health-related areas. “Overall, the goal is for patients to create those heart-healthy diet and exercise habits and implement them in their lives so that when they complete the program, they continue to maintain a healthier lifestyle,” Lacy explained.
Three times per week, from June through August, Dan met with Lacy, who he referred to as his “coach.” In the first sessions, Dan completed five-minute walks on the treadmill and NuStep while wearing a heart monitor. The next week, he completed 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, then 20. Dan began to incorporate weights and increased his walking elevation.
“She really encouraged me,” Dan shared. His number one goal was to make exercise a priority, then to eat the right foods at the right time. Abby Kipfer, Registered Dietitian at WAH, worked with Dan to plan meals and establish better eating habits. Dan wore a Dexcom meter for continuous glucose monitoring.
About halfway through the program, something clicked for Dan. “That’s when the lightbulb went off and I said, ‘You need to take this seriously.’ That’s when the total buy-in was.”
Outside of rehabilitation sessions, Dan began walking laps around the Be Well Path on the WAH campus. “I remember walking one lap with my wife and said, ‘I think I can do two.’” A sign near the path crosswalk indicates that five laps equals three miles. “I think I can do that!” Dan determined. Every night, he and Linda walked five laps. It didn’t take long for five laps to turn into nine, totaling five miles per day.
Though he completed his Cardiac Rehabilitation program in August, Dan’s journey was far from over.
New Habits, New Life
For Dan, reinvigorated habits have led to a 180-degree turn in his lifestyle. “Before the heart attack, I never had a lot of energy or interest in doing anything extra. I’d get off work, go home, and watch TV.” Now, he has more energy and focus at work. “I’m just not a sit-at-home-and-do-nothing person anymore,” he explained.
Dan has lost 50 pounds and counting. “You feel better about yourself,” he shared. Prior to the heart attack, Dan never checked his blood sugars beyond quarterly doctor visits. Now, he checks levels 10-12 times per day. His blood sugar levels, previously 170, now average 103. He brought his hemoglobin A1C level down from an uncontrolled reading of 7.8% to a normal A1C measuring at 5.2%. Through healthy lifestyle changes and medications, he has been able to meet his diabetes goals.
Even with progress, there are always setbacks to overcome. “When you’re trying hard to exercise and do the right thing, you step on the scale and all of the sudden you’ve gained two to three pounds,” Dan admitted. The scale fluctuates and winter days with less sunlight sometimes discourage him from getting out to walk.
“It’s a mindset. You have to do it.” Dan makes it a priority to walk three miles right away after work. Then, he goes home for a bite to eat, spends time with his mother at the local nursing home, and walks another two miles in the well-lit downtown Windom. Dan has also been an active member of the WAH Governing Board since 2019.
He credits Lacy and the team at WAH for helping him take control of his life. Clients like Dan are an inspiration to staff and the larger community. “Even though he is very busy with work and life, he doesn’t let that hold him back. He puts in the effort and drive each and every day and that has helped him tremendously in living a healthier lifestyle,” shared Lacy.
Dan’s family has made all the difference. “Every day, Linda tells me she’s proud of what I’ve achieved and what I’m doing,” he said. The encouragement from his two children, one in Florida and the other in North Carolina, reminds him that the work really is worth it.
It’s Never Too Late
Dan considers himself fortunate to have a quality care team close to home. “The staff here at WAH are absolutely wonderful,” he said. Lacy agrees that the importance of quality local care is invaluable. “Having a Cardiac Rehabilitation program in Windom is a fantastic resource for the surrounding area,” she confirmed. The program can be a great fit for patients wanting to break bad habits and make changes for a heart-healthy lifestyle. Patients, with a provider referral, can skip the hassle of driving a long distance and receive services locally.
“The end result is really worth it. You do feel so much better.” Dan advised others who might be hesitant to make a needed lifestyle change, “Just take that first step, like walking into Lacy’s office.”