Pleasantly disrupted: A billboard brings patient to answers

Rapid City woman on the way to heart specialist in Minneapolis derailed by Sanford Health interstate sign.

By: Ashley Schwab .

Wangens
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We have all been there: cruising down the interstate, listening to some sweet tunes and enjoying the beauty of the Plains. But, every so often that perfect drive is interrupted by a large rectangle box on the side of road.

Billboards. They are everywhere. Need gas? A cup of coffee? A place to stay? There’s a billboard for each. While billboards can be a public eyesore, there are moments when that billboard completely changes someone’s day for the better. It was a simple billboard on the interstate that brought Judy and Darrel Wangen to medical answers and peace of mind.

Judy Wangen, 71, is extremely active. Between yoga and pilates every week to five days spent on the court playing pickle ball, the Rapid City, South Dakota, resident can’t get enough of keeping on the move. Which is why she was so shocked to discover she had heart disease. Even more surprising was the journey to get clear understanding of her test results and what they meant.

A diagnosis

When Wangen went in for her annual checkup, her doctor noticed that her cardiac calcium score in her medical record was high. The previous year she had completed this cardiac calcium test, which looks at the level of buildup in the arteries of the heart, but no one from her local clinic had contacted her to follow up.

Her doctor talked to a cardiologist who suggested Wangen complete an exercise stress test. Typically, the exercise stress test involves using a treadmill or stationary bike while the heart is monitored. Because exercise makes the heart pump faster and harder, it lets the doctor know how the heart handles being pushed. Problems with blood flow, rhythm and blood pressure are more easily revealed.

“After all was said and done, I got my results back. I didn’t understand what they meant,” Wangen says. “I called my friend who is a retired doctor, and she was really concerned by what I told her the test had indicated. She told me, ‘Don’t do anything until you see a cardiologist.’ However, our local clinic couldn’t see me until the middle of the next month.

“We didn’t know what anything meant. We are not medically knowledgeable people. I just wanted to talk to someone to see what my results mean.”

Darrel Wangen, Judy’s husband, says, “I was shocked we needed to wait over a month. I told Judy, ‘That is not acceptable.’ Judy’s uncle had a wonderful experience at a heart hospital in Minneapolis, so I called them about seeing her sooner. They told me that if I could get her to Minneapolis, they would get her in.”

A trip to answers

The two decided to make the over eight-hour trip to Minneapolis.

“After hours on the road, I saw a billboard for Sanford Health on the interstate,” says Darrel Wangen. “Judy asked me why we hadn’t thought to come to Sioux Falls. So, I called Sanford Heart and explained the situation. The receptionist told me they could see her at noon the next day.”

Judy adds, “It was so nice that we didn’t have to continue all the way to Minneapolis, and we could see someone the next day.”

Peace of mind, finally

The doctor met with the Wangens and explained her results. The plaque in her arteries was at a medium level. She would not need open heart surgery. Instead, the focus was on her next steps and preventing further problems.

“When he was talking through everything, the doctor said he needed to look at my lipid levels. I told him I had all of my medical information in the car. So rather than have me complete another blood draw, he had us go get them, and he waited,” she says. “He increased my statins medication, said to take a baby aspirin every day, and go home and keep exercising, like I had been. Then, he gave me his card and said I should call him if I have any questions or needed anything.”

“We are so thankful,” Darrel Wangen says. “After everything, I called Sanford Marketing because I wanted them to know that their billboard made us patients.”

Posted In Health Information, Heart