Stepping down from the 1968 John Deere tractor he uses to clean up the yard, Gary Krikke swings his granddaughter up into his arms.
The three-year-old girl pokes his nose with a giggle.
For the Sanborn, Iowa, family, it’s hard to believe that just months ago little Madison sat nearby while an ambulance took her grandfather to the hospital as he struggled to breathe. Skilled emergency care and rehabilitation in his own community have allowed the long-time farmer to get back quickly to his family and his work.
“She said that day, ‘Why does Grandpa get to ride in the ambulance?’” Gary says. “I’m really happy that I got to take that ride.”
It was a typical fall day on the farm on Sept. 22. Riding his tractor, the 51-year-old man knew that something was wrong. His chest felt rather tight and when he stepped down off the machine, he got dizzy and couldn’t walk more than 10 feet before dropping to the ground.
Due to a history of cardiac problems in his family, he knew the warning signs of a heart attack. Pulling his cell phone out of his pocket, he laid on his back in the yard and called his daughter-in-law and 911.
“I felt like I had a huge weight on my chest,” Gary said. “No matter what it was, there was no question it wasn’t going to be good.”
Gary’s daughter-in-law assisted him until paramedics arrived, while his granddaughter quietly sat near the house watching. His ride to Sanford Sheldon Medical Center was quick, he recalls. Soon doctors and nurses were assessing his situation, and it was pretty serious.
Emergency room registered nurse Maggie McDonald stayed by his side reassuring him and taking care of his pain. Gary said the experienced nurse talked to his family and kept him feeling calm about what was going on throughout his time in the unit.
“I knew she was in charge and I’d be taken care of,” he said. “She left me with no doubt that they’d be able to handle it.”
Within 40 minutes, he was airlifted to Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, where cardiologist Tom Stys informed Gary’s family that he was undergoing a “widow maker” heart attack. One of his coronary arteries was 90 percent blocked and without immediate treatment, he would die.
Dr. Stys placed a stent, a small expandable tube, into the blocked blood vessel. By expanding a balloon inside the stent, his artery was opened and allowed blood to flow back into the heart.
During the diagnostic tests, the doctors realized that another artery was about 70 percent blocked, which could put Gary at risk for another event. Gary returned home, but soon made plans for a second procedure.
Cardiologist Adam Stys, who makes regular outreach visits to Sheldon, performed the procedure to put a second stent in place in the other blocked artery. Gary was relieved to clear the blood vessel and avoid another heart attack.
Following the second heart surgery in Sioux Falls, Gary was able to have nearly all of his follow-up appointments and cardiac rehabilitation at Sanford Clinic Sheldon. The busy farmer, who also works for a contractor, appreciated being able to get experienced, professional care just minutes from home.
“It was so convenient,” Gary said. “It saves a lot of time and it’s so nice to work with people you know and who know you.”
Last fall, the recuperating heart patient watched friends and neighbors come together to help bring in his beans. He “supervised” while they combined his fields, helping harvest the crops.
Now that he’s feeling healthy and strong, Gary can’t wait to get back into the tractor for planting this spring. This time around, he’ll do it with both nitroglycerin tablets and a cell-phone in his pocket.
“Sanford took really good care of me,” Gary said, starting up the tractor. “These things run forever and I hope to be driving it for a few more years.”