About 2 years ago, Steve Herndon of Olathe, Kansas, wasn't feeling well. He thought his fatigue and shortness of breath were caused by allergies. But an X-ray told a different story.
"The X-ray showed I had an enlarged heart," Steve says. "Until that point, I had no idea I was having heart issues. I had just gone on a 5-mile hike with my family."
Steve's doctor diagnosed him with heart failure – a condition that occurs when the heart can't pump blood the way it should. When this happens, the heart must work harder to get blood to the organs. Heart failure is a very serious, often fatal, condition.
In just 5 days, Steve's condition went from bad to worse. He went to an emergency room at a nearby hospital.
"I couldn't breathe and my heart was racing," he says. "It was beating roughly 132 beats per minute."
A higher level of care
Cardiologists determined Steve was too sick for conventional treatment and needed more advanced care. He was transferred by ambulance to The University of Kansas Health System where an entire team of doctors and nurses was waiting for him.
That team included cardiologist Andrew Sauer, MD, and cardiothoracic surgeon Travis Abicht, MD. Dr. Sauer and Dr. Abicht ordered multiple tests and determined Steve was in cardiogenic shock.
"Cardiogenic shock is a situation in which the heart is failing so badly, the other organs are failing as well," Dr. Sauer says. "It's very high risk. Over 50% of people experiencing cardiogenic shock are at risk for death."
To make matters worse, Steve's heart was so sick that it wasn't moving blood, and blood clots were forming behind his heart. One large blood clot in Steve's lungs, called a pulmonary embolism, was causing the right side of his heart to fail. He was given an emergency clot buster medication – a risky treatment due to the amount of blood loss the medicine can cause. But for Steve, there was no other option.
"We had to get him out of cardiogenic shock so his heart could get strong enough for us to evaluate what our options were," Dr. Sauer says.
And while the team rushed into action to save Steve's life, he was preparing for the worst. He said what he thought would be his final goodbye to his wife.
"I thought I was going to die."