Heart failure education provides renewed lifestyle for patient

Gary Kukuk, who lives 25 miles outside of Galesburg, wasn’t feeling quite himself. He started having trouble breathing, had no energy and had swelling in his ankles.

“I was kind of scared to be honest,” Gary said. “I didn’t know what to think.”

Gary made an appointment with his primary care doctor for an evaluation. It’s a good thing he did because his doctor sent him straight to the emergency room.

Finding the answers

Upon arrival to OSF HealthCare St. Mary Medical Center in Galesburg, Gary underwent a variety of tests. The results showed he had heart failure due to fluid retention. Fluid had started pooling around Gary’s heart and lungs, causing him to have trouble breathing and swelling in his ankles.

Gary was admitted to the hospital. “After I was given medication, it was instant relief,” Gary said.

Taking control back

OSF HealthCare believes in not only healing patients but also providing the education to help them live healthier lives.

That’s where Coleen Martinson comes in. She has been a registered nurse at OSF St. Mary for 11 years and is an educator for a variety of illnesses and diseases, including heart failure.

Coleen provides education to every heart failure patient admitted to an inpatient unit at OSF St. Mary.

“Being diagnosed with heart failure shocks many patients, and they aren’t sure where to go from there,” Coleen said. “I tell them we are going to learn this together and that having heart failure is not necessarily a death sentence. It helps them realize they can gain some control back to help improve their health. I try to help them understand the consequences of some of the choices they make.”

Knowledge is power

Once a patient is referred, Coleen introduces herself and asks if she can speak to them about their heart failure diagnosis.

“Most patients are receptive to it,” Coleen said. “I generally start by talking to them about what heart failure is because many people confuse it with a heart attack. We also discuss the causes and what happens to their body when they have heart failure.”

Other topics Coleen discusses with the patients are:

  • Warning signs of a flare up, such as rapid weight gain
  • Medications: how they affect the body and barriers patients face getting their medications
  • Diet: how to read nutrition labels, heart-healthy foods and foods to avoid
  • Exercise: how exercise helps the heart muscle become stronger, improves circulation and helps keep them well-conditioned
  • Programs available that help with a heart failure diagnosis

Gary was referred to Coleen, and he says he has learned a lot from her – especially when it comes to his diet.

“Because of what I’ve learned from Coleen, I’ve noticed a big difference in my lifestyle already,” Gary said. “Within a week, I saw a huge difference in my stamina just by changing my diet and starting to exercise. Pay attention to what the doctors and nurses tell you. If you pay attention, you’ll have a better chance of getting better.”

Learn your risk factors by taking this Heart Health Risk Test.