Getting back on track thanks to a pacemaker

Jerry Turner
Jerry Turner after receiving a temporary pacemaker at UI Heart and Vascular Center

My future looks a lot brighter than it did a year ago and my pacemaker is the main reason

He didn’t realize it then, but looking back Jerry Turner says the first time he felt something “off” with his heart was when he and his wife, Kathy, were on vacation in 2016.

“We had gone to Yellowstone National Park in the fall of ’16 and I noticed I was having difficulty breathing as I walked,” says Jerry, 70, of Marshalltown, Iowa. “When we were walking through the parks, Kathy was always way ahead of me.”

At the same time, Jerry started having gastrointestinal issues, so he assumed the difficulty breathing was somehow related to those issues. During a trip to the hospital in December 2016, though, Jerry complained of back pain and doctors thought he might have fallen. When nothing showed up on X-rays, he was given a muscle relaxer and a shot for pain.

“Then his heart started doing some strange things,” Kathy says. “They were keeping an eye on him.”

His GI issues continued, and his local doctor scheduled a colonoscopy. At the time, it wasn’t his heart that was causing some problems.

“That’s when they found the colon cancer,” Jerry says.

Jerry had surgery on Feb. 27, 2017, to remove the mass that was growing on the outside of his colon, as well as part of his bladder. When he was in recovery following the nine-hour procedure his heart stopped.

“The top and the bottom chambers weren’t talking to each other,” he says.

More specifically, Jerry developed a sudden onset of complete heart block – when the heart’s own electricity stops moving through the ventricles, according to Lenni O’Neill Broeg, BSN, RN, an electrophysiology nurse in the University of Iowa Heart and Vascular Center. She says Jerry’s heart rate dropped to 20 beats per minute and then just stopped.

“We paced his heart transcutaneously – through the chest – until we got the temporary pacemaker placed via a vein in his neck,” says Troy Rhodes, MD, PhD, Jerry’s cardiologist.

A week later, after his heart started showing signs of strengthening, a cardiac resynchronization pacemaker – or CRT-P – was implanted.

“CRT-P is a pacemaker that has a lead in the right atrium, or top part of the heart to make sure the heart rhythm starts, and leads inside the right ventricle and in a vein along the surface of the left ventricle that will stimulate all the muscle walls in the bottom half of the heart to contract/squeeze blood at just the right time,” O’Neill Broeg says. “The pacemaker is programmed with specific timing intervals to make this happen.”

Since his CRT-P was implanted, Jerry has been able to continue with chemotherapy, and has returned to a fairly normal life.

“I’m not 100 percent, obviously – when they took the cancer out they had to take some of my bladder, so I’ve got a stent – but I’m feeling so much better than I was,” Jerry says.

He’s got a special message for his heart team.

"I just want to say ‘thanks’ to everyone at UI Heart and Vascular Center and especially those that worked on me the night I almost died,” he says. “I wouldn't be here today to tell all of you that my last cancer scan showed that I'm in remission with my cancer. The future looks a lot brighter than it did a year ago and my pacemaker is the main reason; it’s working great and my hope is to have my battery replaced in 10 years."

Marshalltown, Iowa