Comfortable is far from how Jerry Heesch describes how he felt after receiving a message from his doctor in 2017. He had a blocked artery and was at high risk for a stroke. But the Navy veteran actually felt prepared to deal with the diagnosis. After all, he knew it was coming for four years.
Heesch was under the watchful eye of his primary VA doctor. During a routine annual exam in 2013, his doctor suggested a stroke screening. Although he never felt any symptoms, the screening showed a blockage on the side of his neck in his right carotid artery, which means he wasn’t getting oxygen-rich blood to his brain. However, at that time the artery didn’t have enough blockage to justify surgery. Then, four year later, a scan revealed his artery had 80 percent blockage, significantly increasing his stroke risk.
“It was a bit scary,” admits Heesch. “I knew that there was the possibility of serious complication, but I knew I would be in good hands with Dr. Michael Willerth.”
Part of his confidence was founded in the fact that Heesch, while now retired, had worked as an electrician for almost 20 years at Trinity Regional Medical Center. He had heard through internal circles about the expertise of Dr. Willerth. Heesch had also run into the doctor hundreds of times over the years and Dr. Willerth always shared a friendly hello and smile. However, it wasn’t Dr. Willerth’s approachable demeanor that helped Jerry with his decision to have his surgery locally.
“My son, Jake, was a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) at Trinity for a while. He has seen this kind of surgery at several large teaching hospitals and felt Dr. Willerth was one of the best vascular surgeons he had witnessed,” Heesch says.
Heesch also shared that while he could have chosen to go anywhere because of his status as a veteran, no other options ever crossed his mind.
“I had complete confidence in Dr. Willerth and the surgery team. After being an employee for as long as I was, I know the quality of the care and expertise they provide. Sometimes people don’t realize how fortunate we are to have the health care services we do in Fort Dodge,” Heesch says.
Heesch’s confidence in Dr. Willerth held true and his surgery went without incident, leaving him to continue leading an active life. He admits he is now taking better care of his body with a better diet and more exercise in hopes of avoiding additional surgeries. But if he does need another surgery, he knows he can count on the surgery team at Trinity.
Trinity Healthy Living provides monthly stroke screenings. The screenings are for individuals who may be at risk for a stroke. Risk factors include family history of stroke, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol, heavy alcohol use and lack of physical activity.
The screening includes an ultrasound of the carotid artery, an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screen, peripheral vascular disease (PVD) screen, and an osteoporosis screen.
Vascular surgeon, Dr. Michael Willerth, UnityPoint Clinic Surgery, reviews all vascular screening results and will recommend follow-up care, if needed. The screenings can be done individually or all together for $115. To schedule a screening or for more information call 515-574-6505.