The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    Getting a second chance

    Submitted Photo

    When you’re in your 20s, you expect a lot of things – go to college, get a job, get married, have fun, go to parties, drink beer. You expect you have the world ahead of you, stretched and limitless.

    You never expect it could end. You never expect to have a heart attack.

    Graduate student Lee Kluck found out that just because you’re young, it doesn’t mean you’re invincible. After having a heart attack at the age of just 28, Kluck had to turn his life around and figure out how to put it back together again.

    “It really changes your outlook on things when the surgeon comes up to you and tells you that you’ve had a heart attack and it should’ve killed you,” said Kluck. “It was a total shock to the system.”

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    It all began on just an average day last spring.

    “One day on the way to class my shoulders went slack and I noticed throughout that next week I started having chest pain,” he said. “But because it wasn’t radiating down the side of my body and I wasn’t having cold sweats, I waited about a week before going in to [Student] Health Services. I finally did, though, and they hooked me up to an EKG and consulted a cardiologist. But they told me it wasn’t serious and sent me home.”

    Unfortunately, the pain only got worse.

    “Finally on the morning of March 11, I went to the emergency room at Sacred Heart Hospital,” he said. “After running tests, they came in and said, as I like to joke, ‘Congratulations! You’ve had a heart attack!'”

    After the heart catheterization the next day, a procedure where plastic tubing is inserted into a vein or artery and is advanced to the heart, the doctor said if a blockage was found, then they’d perform a stint, which is a ballooning of the blocked artery, he said.

    “Now, I’m awake for the heart catheterization, and they’re showing me the different arteries on the screen . and show me that there was a blockage on the backside of my heart, in the left main artery,” he said.

    After consulting with other doctors, they decided that the only option was open-heart surgery, he said.

    “I remember thinking back to the previous Christmas,” he said. “I remember telling myself, ‘you are 310 lbs. and you are not 22 years old anymore. You need to get in shape, because if you don’t you’re going to have a heart attack, sooner rather than later.’ So I had started walking two miles a day and was trying to curb some of my less savory eating habits.”

    But the doctor told him that his heart had been working overtime for too long, he said.

    “My surgeon and his physician’s assistant came in to see me after the procedure, and my surgeon said, ‘They tell me you know a little bit about the Navy,'” he said.

    Being a Masters student in naval history, Kluck certainly did — devoting his time to studying U.S. Naval Aviation in the Korean War – his way of contributing, he said. So he was, in a way, prepared for his surgeon’s direct demeanor.

    “My surgeon was a Captain in the Naval Reserve and his physician’s assistant is a retired Major in the Airforce and was a combat rescue officer,” he said. “And my surgeon says, ‘I’m going to give it to you like I give it to those people – blunt, informative, and forward – we need to cut you open. You need between one and three bypasses done.”

    After getting a few hours to let the information soak in, Kluck decided to go through with the surgery, despite the risks that it could either cause excessive bleeding, stroke, or death, he said. And after six hours on the operating table and a double bypass, Kluck woke up in the Critical Care Unit of Sacred Heart Hospital.

    Then began his long recovery, with the knowledge that things would never be the same.

    “After spending over three weeks in the hospital, I was finally sent home,” he said. “I had to withdraw from school and move back home to heal. I had a diet of basically veggies, brown rice, and white meat and a scar that ran from my neck to the top of my belly. I was in unbelievable pain.”

    So Kluck began the steps he needed to take to start his new life.

    “Before I could get into shape, I had to build up my stamina again,” he said. “I started walking on a treadmill and started off being able to only walk for about seven minutes before getting exhausted.”

    But Kluck sticks to his diet and keeps up the exercise – his life depends on it.

    “The surgeon said that in five to 15 years, I’ll need to have surgery again,” he said. “I’m doing everything I can to push that date out. It’s my turn to work hard to keep myself healthy because all of the doctors and nurses worked so hard to help me. If I don’t, I’ll feel like I’ve let them down.”

    And even after this traumatic event, Kluck decided to go right back to school the very next semester.

    “A lot of who I am has changed even,” he said. “I used to have problems sharing opinions. Now I always share what’s on my mind. Because when it comes down to it, nothing’s as tough as that moment when they look at you and tell you you’ve had a heart attack and shouldn’t be here.”

    Continuing work on his thesis in U.S. Naval history, Kluck definitely has been given a second chance.

    “It was a traumatic experience, but it was a good thing, too, because now I have a new appreciation for life and made the necessary changes to protect it,” he said. “Every day’s a great day because I’m here.”

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