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Your Healthy Family: Naples man's life-saving heart procedure

Posted at 6:51 AM, Jun 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-14 06:51:09-04

NAPLES, Fla. — Imagine your heart stopping on a regular basis. Now imagine every time that happens, you're shocked back into rhythm with around 800 volts. That's the life 70-year-old Rock Schram was dealing with until he had a life-saving procedure at NCH Healthcare System.

"They told me I'd live for five years. That was 2010 in October," Schram said.

Almost 12 years later, he's still breathing.

"I wouldn't wish it on anybody but at least I'm still here," he said.

When Schram was given that five year prognosis, he had just had a heart attack.

"I woke up in the middle of the night, had trouble breathing, got hauled to the hospital in an ambulance. And they did a triple bypass and resectioned the aorta," he said. "What all that accounted to is splitting you open like a chicken and taking your heart out."

That didn't solve all of his heart problems.

"The blood that comes into your heart is ejected every time your heartbeats. I had an ejection fraction of 30. Normal ejection fraction, according to the doctors, is between 74 and 78 percent of your heart," Schram said.

The scarring in his heart from the heart attacks led to irregular heartbeats. Those arrythmias can be deadly. The doctors told Schram, he needed a defibrillator put in, which would shock his heart back into regular rhythm whenever he was having those arrythmias.

Schram's defibrillator is similar to the paddles use see doctors use on TV when someone's heart stops or the AED device you might see mounted on the wall at your workplace or grocery store, but is smaller and wired directly into his heart.

Over nine years, Schram's heart would stop and his defibrillator would go off.

"I used to work construction and there's a couple of times in my life where I came in contact with 220 volts, and that is easier than when this thing goes off. I mean, it's like seeing a flash of lightning. And if you're standing, you're going down. I mean, there's no doubt about it," he said.

Schram said that happened at least 25 times since he had the defibrillator put in. In July of 2017, he said he'd had enough.

"And I was like, 'I'm done. Turn it off. I'm just done.'" he said "I went back and told my kids and kissed mom and said, 'Hey, when I get back, I'm set up to go in because these people have to come and turn it off.'"

Then Dr. Dinesh Sharma with NCH Healthcare System convinced him to go through with a procedure called Ventricular Tachycardia Ablation.

"We decided to pursue catheter ablation, in which we go through the leg into the heart," Dr. Sharma said.

Dr. Sharma then cauterized the lower left chamber of Schram's heart, which means he used heat or cold to create tiny scars, to block the arrythmias.

"By cauterizing it, we decrease the risk of getting more shocks from the device," Dr. Sharma said.

"I was like, 'Well, I'll wait. I'll give you 30 days after the ablation. And if it never goes off, we won't turn it off.' Well, that was five years ago," Schram said.

He said he hasn't had an issue since.

Every three to six months, a programmer will check Schram's defibrillator to make sure it's working correctly. He's now on his third defibrillator. And thanks Dr. Sharma for giving him these extra years.

"I don't know how he did it. I figure a guy ought to buy a lottery ticket because he's due for some big luck," Schram said.