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Fast to Action: Jeff Collings believes the Sarah Bush Lincoln Heart to Heart program saved his life.

May 30, 2023 2:54 p.m.

  • Heart to Heart, Jeff Collings

Jeff had never shown symptoms of cardiac issues, so he never suspected anything was wrong with his heart. Yet in April 2020, he made the most important decision of his life: attending the Heart to Heart screening.

At the time, one of Jeff’s friends, had a cardiovascular issue that required a hospital stay. Jeff, now 59, decided he should also get a screening. “The staff called me the next day and said they didn’t like my numbers,” Jeff recalled.

Jeff did a follow-up stress test and, once again, the results weren’t favorable. SBL Cardiologist Michael LaMonto, DO, told Jeff that he would likely need a stent to help improve his heart health. Jeff and his family couldn’t imagine what was coming next.

Jeff’s procedure to have a stent placed happened during the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented his wife, Tracy, from entering the hospital. Both Tracy and Jeff said that added to the stress of the situation.

As soon as the procedure started, it ended. “They started, and pretty quickly they told me, ‘You need open heart surgery,’” Jeff said. Tracy said she was waiting for the call to pick up Jeff and when the call came early, she asked what the situation was. She was in disbelief. “They told me he needed the surgery,” Tracy explained. “When people talk about an out-of-body experience, that was me.”

Dr. LaMonto referred Jeff to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, where he underwent quadruple bypass surgery. The time span between Jeff’s Heart to Heart screening and his discharge after the surgery was just two weeks. “It was so quick that I didn’t really think about it too much, which was a good thing, I guess,” he said.

Tracy added that they didn’t realize how serious Jeff’s situation was until they met with the surgeon the day before the surgery. Of course, that made the night prior to surgery and the morning of the procedure even more stressful. “The thing I remember most that morning was leaving the house thinking, ‘Will you ever see this house again?’” Jeff said. “That was tough.”

The surgery went well, and three days later, Jeff returned home. To aid his recovery, Jeff enrolled in the SBL Monitored Exercise Testing Services (METS) program, which helps people who have heart disease, lung disease or diabetes strengthen their hearts and lungs to improve their health. Jeff said the METS program was an important part of his recovery, and he is thankful that was available for him.

Heart to Heart so impacted Jeff that he was inspired to have his entire family screened: Tracy, the couple’s three children and extended family members. The screening revealed that Tracy has Sarcoidosis, a condition in which the immune system overreacts and makes lumps in parts of the body.

Tracy’s lungs are affected by Sarcoidosis, but luckily, she has not had any major side effects. While she does not need to take medication, she has a check-up every six months to assess disease progression.

For both Jeff and Tracy, the important— and scary— element of their stories is that neither showed any symptom of their disease processes. Jeff was told that had he not acted when he did, the only sign he would have had of his heart disease was a heart attack.

Now Jeff and his family spread the word about the Heart to Heart program. He even passes out pamphlets about it. “I like the quote on the pamphlet, ‘Screening and peace of mind.’ It’s 45 minutes to an hour to save your life,” Jeff said.

“My recommendation is everyone should have this done,” Tracy added.

For more information about The Heart Center, please call 217 238-4960. To schedule a Heart to Heart screening, call 217-258-2238.


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