The heart isn't just any old organ, so when something goes wrong, it changes people's lives in a big way.
Patrick Murphy found this out after suffering a heart attack in 2011. Doctors told him he could have easily died.
"What was important before is not important now," said Patrick, 52, of Collinsville. "Your priorities change. I used to get stressed out over everything. I'd panic or worry or whatever.
"But after you go through this -- after you have this disease -- you realize what really matters. You appreciate your friends and family more, and when you go to church, it has much more meaning."
Patrick also has adopted a healthier lifestyle. He avoids fried foods, swims regularly and takes blood thinner and other medication.
"I was a perpetual 7 a.m. Mountain Dew guy, and that was the first thing to go," he said. "It's full of caffeine and sugar. It's every cardiac patient's nightmare."
Patrick is one of three people who will share Stories from the Heart on Monday as part of Memorial Hospital's Heart Month celebration. All have gone through its Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.
Patrick is assistant director of radiology at Memorial and a radiology instructor at Southwestern Illinois College.
He and his wife, Beth, celebrated her birthday on April 30, 2011, by going to mouse races. After returning home with friends, Patrick began feeling chest congestion and shortness of breath. Symptoms continued to worsen, so Beth drove him to Memorial about 4:30 a.m. An electrocardiogram confirmed a heart attack.
"Dr. (Hatim) Mahmood said, 'I'm doing everything I can to save your life,'" Patrick recalled. "And that's when I knew I wasn't in Oz anymore. It brought it all home."
Doctors implanted a cardiac stent to open a 100-percent blocked artery and treated a partially blocked artery with angioplasty.
Today, Patrick is back to doing the things he loves: Swimming, taking photographs, watching Cardinals baseball, going to The Muny and spending time with his two children and two grandchildren.
"(Dietary restrictions don't) stop me from going out to dinner with family and friends," he said. "I just know what I can order and can't order. I still like my desserts."
Right place at the right time
Don Pellmann is a biomedical engineer at Memorial. He was called into work to check on a piece of equipment the day of his heart attack, Feb. 13, 2010.
Don and his wife, Vicki, had to miss their pre-Valentine's Day dinner, a change of plans that likely saved his life.
Don had been experiencing shortness of breath and shoulder pain in the days leading up to the 13th, but he just thought a head cold had settled in his chest.
Severe lightheadedness at the office quickly transformed him from hospital employee to cardiac patient.
"Throughout the whole thing, I wasn't scared," said Don, 57, of Millstadt. "I wasn't nervous. We do a lot of drills here at the hospital, and that's what it felt like to me."
Doctors implanted two stents in one artery and treated another with angioplasty.
Like Patrick, Don has made health a priority and developed a new appreciation for his blended family. He and Vicki have 10 children -- including 6-year-old son Lukas and 9-year-old daughter Mariella adopted from China -- and four grandchildren.
Don also joined the Belleville Chapter of Mended Hearts, a volunteer organization and support group for heart patients and their families.
"When you've had a heart attack, you suddenly have a lot in common with other people who have had heart attacks," he said. "The stories bring you together."
Post-surgery emotions run high
Diane Murphey quit her 33-year smoking habit, joined a fitness center and hired a personal trainer, but those actions couldn't fix her inherited medical problem.
"My primary doctor told me five years ago I had my mother's heart and I would probably have to have an aortic valve replacement," she said.
Diane, 60, of Belleville, began experiencing shortness of breath and swelling last year. It got to the point she could no longer work out.
Doctors replaced her aortic valve with a mechanical one on Aug. 24. Complications kept her in the hospital for 10 days.
Then Diane began the slow recovery process, including paranoia about every little ache and pain and depression over her own mortality.
"(My outlook) depends on the day," she said last week. "Today is a good day. I'm feeling positive."
Diane recently graduated from the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, which helped her build strength and confidence. Her two grown sons also have been very supportive.
Diane is awaiting doctor's permission to return to her job as a customer service agent for Southwest Airlines.
"I'm still prioritizing," she said. "I've always been a grateful person, but now I'm incredibly grateful. I cry over everything. You become so much more compassionate. My heart just goes out to people. I empathize with them."
Heart Month at Memorial
Stories from the Heart -- Heart patients share personal stories from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday in Memorial Hospital's auditorium. Free. Advance registration required at 618-257-5649.
"I Love Lucy" Heart Fair -- Health screenings, exercise demos, healthy snacks and giveaways from 8 to 11:30 a.m. Feb. 23 at the hospital's Orthopedic and Neurosciences Center. Advance registration required at 618-257-5649.
Zumbathon -- Get your heart pumping and experience the zumba exercise craze from 2 to 4 p.m. Feb. 24 at Belleville Health and Sports Center, 1001 S. 74th St. $10 admission.
Heart Healthy Conversation -- Cardiologist Dr. Omar Almousalli discusses heart health for men and women from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Feb. 28 at Memorial Health Education Center, 706 E. Highway 50 in O'Fallon. Advance registration required at 618-257-5649.