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Heart Patient Completes First Triathlon

June 28, 2017

Bill Fritsche completed his first triathlon on Saturday in McCook just over a year since his quadruple heart bypass surgery, thanks to the dedicated assistance from Community Hospital’s cardiopulmonary rehab team. His training for the tri was inspiration for the cardiopulmonary nurses to form a team and complete the relay portion of the tri, each completing the swim, bicycling or run. From left are: Chelsey Hartwell, Julie Paz, RN, and Kari Williby, RN.

McCook, Nebraska—On June 24 Bill Fritsch, Culbertson, participated in a triathlon; a personal goal he set for himself a little over a year ago. He could have recruited a relay team to complete parts of the swim, bike and run challenges but instead he did all three; swam 500 meters, cycled 14 miles and ran a 5k (3.1 miles). Bill’s participation in his first triathlon at the age of 63 is remarkable in itself. However it is even more remarkable because a little over a year ago Bill underwent quadruple bypass surgery.

Bill is a man of many surprises. He would probably say the biggest surprise was on him. In January 2016 while doing a little light shoveling he was surprised that the exercise was rendering him weak and short of breath. Bothered by that experience; Bill scheduled a stress test at Community Hospital. He had barely made it back to his home in Culbertson when a telephone call from Dr. Steven Krueger, Bryan Heart cardiologist, suggested he pack his bags for a trip to Bryan Health in Lincoln to open his blocked arteries.

The seriousness of the situation surprised Bill but he knew Dr. Krueger would not be mincing words. As it turned out, using stints to open the clogged arteries was not going to be enough. Surgery was scheduled to perform a quadruple bypass.

According to Dr. Krueger, it was initially Bill’s primary provider, Dr. Mark Serbousek who recognized Bill’s presenting symptoms and referred him quickly to Dr. Krueger and Bryan Heart at Community Hospital’s specialty clinic. By working hand in hand with Dr. Serbousek, they diagnosed and treated the blockages in Bill’s heart before any damage was done to Bill’s heart muscle. By saving the heart muscle it has assured Bill a better quality of life for years to come.

Of course, the journey did not end with corrective surgery. The next steps were up to Bill and a team of nurses and doctors. Bill returned home to a regimen that would require daily rehabilitation with the cardiopulmonary program at Community Hospital’s Rehabilitation Center. There he met his team who would become his support in the months ahead.

Chelsey Hartwell, RN, Director of Cardiopulmonary Rehab remembers Bill well. In fact when his story began she and Julie Paz, RN, who were orienting to the stress room hand-carried his stress test results to Dr. Krueger knowing that what they saw would cause some alarm. Chelsey says, “We knew that he would be in need of some cardiac intervention.”

Bill has only positive reflections on his year of rehabilitation. He credits the team at the rehab center for always being upbeat and encouraging. However, Bill’s recovery to health had many factors. It started with Bill not ignoring the obvious signs that something wasn’t right and having a cardiologist available through Community Hospital’s Medical Specialists Center when needed. These factors combined with quick action; all played an important role in his recovery.

Although Bill is always welcome to visit the rehab center, he has exceeded all expected goals set in place from his time in rehab. Due to his determination and willingness to try new things he has been a success story from the beginning to the end. Bill has graduated beyond therapies to living a full and healthy life. His story includes his determination to return to a life where he is an active outdoorsman, an avid fisherman and a licensed pilot. His most recent stress tests support that possibility.

Bill’s cardio rehab team knew he was planning to enter the triathlon in McCook. They decided to not only be there with him and cheer him on, but to participate as well. Chelsey Hartwell, Julie Paz and Kari Williby formed a team and entered in the relay portion of the Tri. Each took a part of the event to show their support and help him achieve his goal.

If you were to ask Bill what factors contributed to his success he would probably not credit his own endurance so much as all the available healthcare he received. “I wouldn’t be here today without a quick diagnosis, the skill of a visiting cardiologist and the availability of a rehabilitation center close to home,” he said. “I hope everyone appreciates what Community Hospital provides for us here in Southwest, Nebraska,” he added.

In 2007 Community Hospital celebrated the opening of the new rehabilitation center which was the result of nearly $2 million raised by Community Hospital Health Foundation to match hospital funds. Today the center is the place where people come to recover from joint replacement, injury, speech challenges and cardiac and pulmonary disease. It is a place for healing that would not be possible without the generous support from so many.

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