- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) - When Jeff T. Payne was told he had congestive heart failure, he was “scared to death.”

“I thought ‘What do we do?’” Payne recalled. “It’s easy if it’s a blockage. You open it.”

But congestive heart failure is a condition of the heart not being able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Congestive heart failure contributes to one in nine deaths in the United States, according to the American Heart Association.

Payne thought it was a death sentence. “There’s no surgical procedure. There’s no miracle drug. I thought there’s not a whole lot that can be done.”

But that was 15 years ago. Thanks to medicines, an implantable defibrillator, pacemaker, low-sodium diet, non-strenuous exercise, listening to his body and learning to not stress every time he experiences a heart beat irregularity, Payne is living with congestive heart failure.

“I just learned ‘This (heart irregularity) is going to happen,’” Payne, 65, said in his Bloomington home last week. “I learned to manage it.”

Payne is a retired television writer, producer and director who spent much of his career as director of television production at Illinois State University. He is married to Julie Payne, has two sons and five grandchildren. For 20 years, he played saxophone with the band, Hip Pocket.

In 2000, Payne had several episodes in which he experienced a rapid heartbeat and perspiration for several minutes. Then, he would feel drained.

“I thought I was having anxiety attacks,” Payne said. “But they were getting worse and worse and it was getting scarier.”

He had an X-ray that showed that his heart was enlarged. Testing revealed no arterial blockage but his ejection refraction rate - the measurement of the percentage of blood leaving the heart each time it contracts - was low.

Payne found out that what he thought were panic attacks actually was atrial fibrillation (AFib), a quivering or irregular heartbeat. He was experiencing AFib because he had congestive heart failure, meaning his heart wasn’t able to pump enough blood to meet his body’s needs. He got that diagnosis in early 2001.

He was told his life expectancy was, at best, 10 to 15 years. “I was depressed. I didn’t know what to do.”

Doctors think a viral infection may have caused Payne’s heart to enlarge. Payne’s family has a history of heart disease.

He saw a cardiologist and was prescribed beta blockers to make his heart pump more efficiently, a blood thinner and cholesterol-reducing medicine.

“The first couple years were hard,” he admitted. “I would go to the emergency room every time I was sweating and my heart would beat rapidly because I was in AFib. I would panic.”

After a while, Payne learned to sit and relax until a normal heartbeat resumed. He learned a technique to “bear down and grunt,” which sometimes helped resume the regular heartbeat.

He also learned to accept his condition.

“I learned from the Bible to not worry about it,” said Payne, an elder in Northside Church, Bloomington. “I learned what my body is doing and learned to accept it. I needed to live my life.”

That didn’t mean Payne shut himself off from more treatments as his condition worsened. When the chronic, progressive disease resulted in AFib episodes that were so severe that he passed out a couple of times, doctors implanted in the left side of Payne’s chest a cardio defibrillator and pacemaker.

When Payne is in AFib, the defibrillator shocks the heart so it will resume normal rhythm. The pacemaker helps to regulate heart rhythm.

“It (the defibrillator/pacemaker) was a life saver.”

Actually, it was a lifesaver at least twice. Once, he woke up in the middle of the night because he had gotten a shock that felt like someone punched him in the chest. Another time, he was hosting a small-group prayer meeting when his heart stopped and he passed out.

“The people in the prayer group said they saw my body jerk. That’s when I got the shock. I woke up after the shock and was fine.”

“If your heart stops, you’re dead and that’s happened to me twice.”

Payne has a communicator that scans his defibrillator and pacemaker and transmits to his cardiologist via phone lines his heart rate information and notes when he receives shocks.

“It’s a very satisfying thing to have that,” he said. “It allows them to evaluate what’s going on with my heart and that helps to relieve stress and anxiety.”

Payne had a procedure called an ablation in which radiofrequency energy was used to kill nerves that were causing AFib.

“The AFib didn’t stop but it lessened in intensity,” he said. “I didn’t go to the emergency room for a couple of years.”

All this helped the Bloomington man in his ongoing journey with the chronic, progressive condition.

“The psychological thing is a big thing to conquer,” he admitted. “I gave it to God. I quit worrying about it. Worrying was making things worse. I just try to live each day as if it’s my last.”

Payne sees his cardiologist every six months, his ejection refraction rate is checked and he has an echocardiogram, which tests the action of the heart.

Over the years, his medicines have been adjusted. He takes beta blockers to help his heart pump more efficiently, a diuretic to remove fluid from his body, a blood thinner, medicine to keep his blood vessels open and a cholesterol reducer.

“A lot of it is getting the (drug) cocktail right,” Payne said as he took his morning medicines on Jan. 25.

Payne has a low-sodium diet and does 20 minutes of exercise a day. Again, he strikes a balance. Exercise is good but he can’t overdo it. So he lifts three-pound weights doing seven exercises: arm row, squat, lateral raise, curl, overhead tricep extensions, bench press and trunk curl.

While Payne had to give up performing with Hip Pocket, he continues to play the saxophone for his own enjoyment, gardens and takes care of the house while Julie is at work.

“I lead a pretty normal life but I have to have a good understanding of my body,” Payne said. “If I don’t feel well, I take it easy.”

Payne doesn’t think of his prognosis. While he has outlived his life expectancy and the treatments, medicine and lifestyle changes mean he’s doing well, he knows his ejection refraction rate is declining and he can die in an instant.

“It’s heart failure,” he said. “I’ve given it to God.”


Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/1mohlBv


Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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