Published on February 28, 2020

When Heart Trouble Hit, MidMichigan Helped Him Overcome Great Obstacles

Photo of Dale Robb, Cardiology and Cardiac Rehabilitation patient with MidMichigan Medical Center - Alpena.

Even though Dale Robb has graduated from his supervised cardiac rehabilitation program, he still comes in to the Medical Center on a regular basis to focus on his ongoing health maintenance.

Dale Robb is no stranger to hard work in the face of adversity. He has overcome severe diabetes, as well as the loss of one of his legs. This resilience proved invaluable when he suddenly developed heart disease.

Earlier in his life, Robb weighed as much as 430 pounds; his blood sugar was through the roof. In 2011 he ended up having his left leg amputated below the knee. He spent seven months in the hospital during this ordeal.

When he was finally released, he knew he had to start making some major changes in his life. He started cooking healthier recipes and avoiding junk food. Although moving around was more difficult with his new prosthetic leg, he gradually added more physical activity into his routine. These efforts paid off, and he dropped to a healthy weight of 190 pounds. His blood sugar is now so well controlled, he said, “I’m not even classified as diabetic anymore.”

Robb enjoyed his newfound health as he retired and moved to Alpena. The quiet environment and the scenery were great for getting out and walking around the neighborhood each day. It was also where he became acquainted with MidMichigan Medical Center – Alpena and began seeing a new family doctor, Rong Lawson, M.D.

The convenient medical center turned out to be a blessing. In the summer of 2019, at the age of 67, a lurking heart problem suddenly manifested itself. On a sweltering evening out on the patio, he thought he was simply feeling the heat. However, three days later his symptoms had progressed to where he was in great distress. “I could tell my heart wasn’t beating right,” he said.

His intuition was correct- his heart was in atrial fibrillation (AFib). At the emergency room, he learned his heart function was extremely low. The ejection fraction – the amount of blood that gets pumped out of the heart each time it beats – should be around 55 percent or higher. His was at only 10 percent. One of his coronary arteries was nearly completely blocked, depriving his heart muscles of oxygen. After having a cardiac catheterization procedure to reopen his blocked artery, he was soon back at home, but far from back to normal.

“It just debilitated me all of a sudden,” said Robb. He felt his strength and energy were the same as when he first lost his leg. His pulse and his blood pressure were also very low. “I would get light-headed vacuuming,” he said. He started seeing Cardiologist Abraham Salacata, M.D., for his follow-up care and going to cardiac rehabilitation at the Medical Center.

“Right away, I could tell it was quite different,” he said. “I’ve been through enough rehab programs to know.” The cardiac rehab team at MidMichigan cared for Robb on a personal level and worked with him to make decisions. “They’re friendly and professional,” said Robb. “If you needed to hear a few strong words they’d tell you, but they were very encouraging.”

With his prosthetic leg, he couldn’t use some of the equipment typically involved in cardiac rehabilitation. Treadmills and stair steppers were out. However, his therapists developed a personalized training plan for his specific abilities and limitations. For example, they taught him how to use a seated stepper and showed him how to use his arms without using his legs if needed. While he primarily worked with Exercise Physiologist Sarah Parsons, the rest of the staff also made themselves available as needed. “They all helped and were there to answer any questions I had,” he said.

Robb made a dedicated effort to rebuild his strength. “The only thing I can say is you can’t give up, and you have to put in the work,” he advised others beginning cardiac rehabilitation. “You might be tired, but your doctor won’t prescribe something you can’t do.”

In just three to four weeks he had built much of his strength back. While he started only managing about 20 minutes of exercise at a time, he can now go for over an hour. His blood pressure and pulse are back to normal as well. He has now graduated from supervised training and comes in on his own for maintenance. “I really enjoy it because I know somebody’s there,” he said. Every time he goes in, he gets his vitals checked, and there are knowledgeable experts on hand if he ever needs assistance.

Today, Robb is back to enjoying his retirement, filled with hours of reading and walks in the outdoors. “I feel great,” he said. “It’s really helped a lot.”

MidMichigan Health offers a full array of heart and vascular services, including open heart surgery, vascular surgery, electrophysiology for heart rhythm problems and advanced interventional procedures, as well as cardiac rehabilitation. Those who would like additional information on MidMichigan’s comprehensive heart and vascular services may visit www.midmichigan.org/heart.