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A Letter to You: Advise You can Take to Heart

November 22, 2010

By: Keith Guller, Director, Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation Board

I’m a health-conscious man. Every day begins for me with exercise at 3:30 a.m., and my diet is primarily vegetarian. I had none of the “classic” signs that one would expect with a serious health problem. But my wife Cindi will tell you about the other side of me. The one that never stopped working to meet the needs of my family, my business and my friends. This was the side that led her to carry aspirin in her purse, in case I had a heart attack.

When I passed out at the St. Louis Municipal Opera in the summer of 2009, I realized that I’d just been given a warning—and I didn’t think twice about calling Barnes-Jewish Hospital. I knew from what I had learned while serving on the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation Board that I would get the best treatment there.

Life changed dramatically when I failed my stress test at the hospital. It’s hard to describe the fear that grips you when you go from being healthy one day to needing open-heart surgery the next. But from our first meeting, Dr. Mann, cardiologist-in-chief at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the head of the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center, took the time to answer all of our questions. He laid out all of my clinical options. He showed me the images of my heart blockage. He was the epitome of exceptional care, as were all the physicians we encountered at Barnes-Jewish.

It’s not only the physicians who gave me outstanding personal attention. Cindi, our children, my mother and my extended family were amazed by the wonderful care given to us by every nurse and staff member we met.

But our story doesn’t end there. About a week after my discharge, I woke up one night and could not talk. I was having a stroke. Cindi and I experienced fear on a whole new level—we were both scared that I wouldn’t come out of this.

Thankfully, Barnes-Jewish Hospital is certified as a Primary Stroke Center, which means that the stroke team is making exceptional efforts to achieve better stroke outcomes. Cindi says that the stroke team was just as outstanding as the team that helped me with my heart. Thanks to their world-class care, I’m fully recovered. Cindi and I are living proof that heart disease and stroke can happen to anyone who seems otherwise healthy. If we can share any wisdom from what we have been through, it is:

Continue to educate yourself on the warning signs of heart disease. I was ignorant of the signs myself until it was almost too late. Rely on your instincts if something doesn’t feel right. If you don’t listen to yourself, listen to your loved ones!

Reach out to the world-class physicians at Barnes-Jewish. Dr. Mann is one of the thousands of reasons why Barnes-Jewish Hospital and its Washington University physician partners are national leaders in medicine. An academic medical center is always at the front line of discoveries, providing the support we need to take control of our health.

Our strong desire to build awareness of heart disease and the fine physicians who are fighting it led Cindi and me to establish the Guller Family Lectureship in Preventative Cardiology (Fund #7278) through the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation. We want this program to empower more people with the information they need to help themselves and their loved ones achieve better heart health.

Go to Barnes-Jewish Hospital when you need care. Heart bypasses like mine are an everyday occurrence at Barnes-Jewish. But regardless of condition, I tell all my friends to go there. Barnes-Jewish Hospital physicians and staff will know exactly what to do. I trust Barnes-Jewish Hospital because my family and I have personally experienced its high level of care. I give to Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation because St. Louis—in fact, the Midwest—is truly fortunate to have a hospital and physicians like this. Thanks to the people at Barnes-Jewish, I was able to dance at my daughter Erin’s wedding—and that’s something I wanted to do with all my heart (and my two left feet).

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