Patients & Visitors

My Aspirus Story

Voelker takes bypass surgery in stride

Patient Name: Bob Voelker

On Thanksgiving, Wausau resident Bob Voelker was in good spirits as he and his wife, Mary, had family in town from Green Bay for dinner. What was supposed to be a nice holiday took a turn for the worse that night when Voelker began feeling pressure in his chest.

Unsure of what to do, Voelker walked around hoping the feeling would go away, but it lasted into the next morning.

“I waited until the next morning – and I shouldn’t have – and I called my cardiologist, and he said ‘Go to the emergency department,’” Voelker said.

 See more videos at the Aspirus YouTube Channel.

When Voelker arrived to the emergency department at Aspirus Wausau Hospital, doctors conducted a few tests and determined that he didn’t have a heart attack, but they wanted to evaluate him further. The 62-year-old Voelker was scheduled to have a heart catheterization (cath) a few months later, but it was decided that Voelker should have one right away.

“They went ahead and did the heart cath within an hour of when I arrived at the emergency room and boy was that a great call,” he said. “I knew I had some plaque built up in my heart, which is why I had the other heart cath scheduled, but they discovered that I had a number of blockages.”

In just a few hours, Voelker had gone from enjoying Thanksgiving dinner to facing the prospect of open-heart surgery. Unfortunately, the surgery was delayed for a few days because of some medications he was taking. Doctors were prepared to do the surgery immediately if any sudden problems came up, but Voelker spent a few days under observation in the hospital until his medications were out of his system.

While in the hospital waiting for the day of his surgery to finally arrive, Voelker actually found himself at ease with the whole situation. He was no longer in any discomfort like he was prior to coming to the hospital, and his strong faith made the whole situation easier to handle.

“I was comfortable with the procedure because I knew I had to have it done, and everyone at the hospital was so informative about what was going to happen and what to expect,” Voelker said. “I never had a sense of being nervous because I felt I was in good hands.”

On the following Wednesday, Voelker was finally ready to have the surgery. His doctors went into the procedure planning on doing a quadruple bypass, but once they got started they determined they needed to do a fifth. After surgery, Voelker spent a couple days in recovery before going home on Saturday.

Once he got home, Voelker says it took a little while before he began to feel less fragile, and he calls his wife his “guardian angel” for how well she took care of him in the days immediately following surgery. He also found great comfort in his heart-shaped pillow that all Aspirus heart patients receive after surgery to hug when they need to sneeze or cough in order to prevent their tender ribs from being jarred.

“That pillow became my Wilson,” said Voelker, referring to the bond Tom Hanks’ character formed with a volleyball in the movie Cast Away. “I carried that pillow everywhere I went and I slept with it – and actually still do.”

About two weeks after surgery, Voelker began a new challenge when he started cardiac rehab. After an initial informational session, Voelker started the Aspirus Cardiac Rehab program where he does aerobic activities like walking on a treadmill, riding a bike and some light weightlifting. The program is meant to gradually build up heart surgery patients’ strength and also build their confidence in being active again.

Most people don’t think of rehab in a positive light, but Voelker says going through cardiac rehab “has been great.”

“The people are great, they are knowledgeable and they know what they’re doing,” he said. “When you start cardiac rehab, you tend to try to start out too slow or do too much, but you’re under their watch and they gradually increase what you do. They really take care of you.”

Voelker still has some work ahead of him to get back to where he was – an avid biker who used to put more than 1,500 miles on his road bike each year – but he’s well on his way with the help of the cardiac rehab team at Aspirus. Voelker also surprisingly looks back fondly at his whole experience.

“If you can call open-heart surgery a good experience, I think it was,” he said. “It’s a blessing to be in a community with the medical resources that we have, and it’s great to have all that, but you need people to treat you like a person.

“That’s what I’ll remember most is the people. Everyone at Aspirus has just been great and they made me feel important to them – like I should be part of the process.”

Created: Feb 25, 2011

« Return to Stories