Guest blog: South Burlington man shares lessons learned during his heart failure journey

Written by Robert Rapatski

It was a long week. I had been on the road all week from South Florida up to Atlanta then to Nashville with my employer working on a pair of events. I arrived home late after our work was complete and as I headed to bed, something didn’t feel right. It felt like there was a weight on my chest and I could hear fluid moving around inside. This was sudden
and not something that gradually occurred.

I got up and started moving around the house with an extreme feeling of discomfort with the idea of laying down again. Sleep was not in my evening plans any longer. The following day I took a COVID test, which came up negative. At this point I was under the assumption that something was going on with my lungs.

My First Lesson. Don’t assume.

The following day I went to a nearby clinic to see if their medical professionals could help me figure out what was wrong. They took some blood tests, but they did not have an x-ray tech on site to take a deeper look inside. As I was checking out the admin tried to help determine a location with an x-ray technician available. Thursday they were in one town, Friday in another…so I asked about Saturday & Sunday. She looked at me in earnest and
said, “I wouldn’t wait too long.” I left with a prescription of antibiotics and put it off.

My Second Lesson. Don’t wait.

I tried for days to go back to work but I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded. I thought for sure I had pneumonia or a similar lung infection. I was constantly tired, but I pushed on. I kept going to work, even though I was far from okay. I kept taking antibiotics, but my condition did not improve.

It had been 2 weeks, so I went to another clinic for more testing. This clinic had an x-ray technician on-site and was much more thorough. I had a brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) test which is a blood test that measures levels of a protein called BNP that is made by your heart and blood vessels. My results were a BNP level of over 800 (considered very high) and the x-ray showed and enlarged heart. I joked with my mom about having a big heart…but this was no joking matter. We talked on a Thursday, and she told me that every fiber in her being was telling her that I need to go to the emergency room. The clinic had scheduled an echocardiogram for the following Friday.

Friday, as I was driving from my appointment, the clinic called me with the imaging results. “Mr. Rapatski, you should go to the emergency room immediately!” So, I parked the car at home & called my neighbor to ask him to take me to the hospital.

My Third Lesson: Shortness of breath may not be your lungs.

I was suffering from congestive heart failure. I had a mitral valve prolapse & fluid started to fill in the sack surrounding my heart. I spent 3 full days in the hospital while they found me a room and ran their own set of tests. By Tuesday morning I was put under as the surgeon performed open heart surgery. 10 days later I went home.

I lost my voice due to vocal cord paralysis. My digestion was a mess from the antibiotics that I didn’t need. My body took almost a year to fully correct itself & heal from the surgery.
I am thankful to be here today and for my loved ones who helped me during this acute health crisis.

My message to anyone suffering from shortness of breath: GET YOUR HEART CHECKED OUT IMMEDIATELY. IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE!