VCU research helping patients reverse or prevent heart failure

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Kyle Schwandt never used to enjoy running, but now he is putting everything he has into training for the Monument Avenue 10K. With each stride he takes, Schwandt celebrates what it means.

“Just instinctually something came in,” he remembers. “I knew something was really wrong.”

runningDuring a workout a year and a half ago, Schwandt noticed he was unusually out of breath.

“I actually continued my workout, sort of pushed through it and was really exhausted and cut it short after a half hour.”

Over the next 48 hours, Schwandt developed heartburn and had an achy jaw and joints.

“I was having trouble with stairs,” he says. “Every time I had to walk my dogs, it was an arduous process.”

After investigating his symptoms online, Schwandt decided to finally go to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Medical Center.

“They hooked me up to the EKG, and she looked at the EKG and bolted right out,” Schwandt recalls. “And within seconds, a whole team had taken me and pushed me back to the emergency room, and that’s where my whole story began.”

Schwandt was having a massive heart attack, even though symptoms he was experiencing were more subtle than the sudden sharp chest pain often depicted on tv and in movies.

“I went about my life for two days and was having a massive heart attack,” he says incredulously. “The worst, pretty much the worst heart attack you can have, and I was living my life.”

At age 43, Schwandt was also now at a greater risk for heart failure.

In the hospital during his treatment, Schwandt connected with Dr. Antonio Abbate, a VCU cardiologist who is leading a study on strengthening heart function in survivors like Schwandt.

“We’re trying to make it squeeze and relax better,” Dr. Abbate explains. “So patients can feel better as they try to do exercise or walk around, and they can breathe better.”

Dr. Abbate’s team of researchers is testing different methods, but reducing inflammation is a main goal.

“When we inhibit inflammation in the body, it has a great effect on function,” he demonstrates by pumping his fist to simulate the beating heart.

Linda Coles was diagnosed with heart failure three years ago.
Linda Coles was diagnosed with heart failure three years ago.

Another patient enrolled in the study is Linda Coles.

“I know I come from a family with heart problems, but I never dreamed I had it,” she says.

Coles had a quintuple bypass in 2003 and first met Dr. Abbate three years ago when she was already diagnosed with heart failure.

After participating in his research, her heart function and breathing have improved.

“I can do more than three years ago,” she describes how her quality of life is also better.

Schwandt says he continues to get stronger too, as evidenced by his newfound running routine and his regular hikes with dogs up for adoption at Houlagans’ Rest animal rescue group.

He has a defibrillator now and a greater awareness of symptoms. He shares his story to encourage others to seek help sooner rather than later.

“It was like textbook, heart attack,” he recalls the day that changed his life. “And a lot of the symptoms I had never heard of before. A lot of people can be having a serious heart attack and be just going about their lives.”

Kyle Schwandt began volunteering with Houlagans' Rest to strengthen his heart going on weekly hikes with rescue dogs.
Kyle Schwandt began volunteering with Houlagans’ Rest to strengthen his heart going on weekly hikes with rescue dogs.

Schwandt says he is thankful for Dr. Abbate’s research funded by the American Heart Association (AHA).

The AHA is funding $6,092,896 in heart disease and stroke research in Virginia this year at VCU, the University of Virginia, McGuire VA Medical Center and Virginia Tech.

Schwandt also is thankful for his second chance at life.

“It’s been an incredible journey,” he says.

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