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Heart Care Times Two: Mattoon couple trusts care from SBL Heart Center at home and away

November 7, 2018 12:23 p.m.

After 50 years of marriage, Dean and Diane Birdsong have learned to roll with life’s ups and downs and to make the best of every situation.

So it’s not surprising that they bounced back quickly after experiencing unexpected heart scares in April. The Mattoon couple is especially grateful for the care they received from doctors and nurses at The Heart Center at Sarah Bush Lincoln – even while they were on the road.

Since retiring four years ago, Dean and Diane have enjoyed working from May to October at their favorite campground in Colorado. “We want to stay active and it’s a beautiful area. There are mountains all around us and we love it out here,” Diane said. 

Prior to making the trek out west this year, the Birdsongs rushed home from their son’s wedding in Florida to attend funeral services for Diane’s father, after he passed away unexpectedly. A few days later, they left for Texas, where they planned to visit friends before going to Colorado.

While en route in their truck and trailer, Dean’s heart started racing. Alarmed, they called their SBL cardiologist and provided him with blood pressure and heart rate readings over the phone. He advised them to go to the nearest emergency room. For years, Dean and Diane have trusted cardiologists at Sarah Bush Lincoln for their care, even while they are away. Thanks to this intervention, Dean spent three days in a hospital in Conway, Arkansas, where doctors adjusted his medication to get his heart back into rhythm.

The couple then continued their journey to Texas but decided after three weeks that they needed to fly home to tend to their health and some family matters before heading to Colorado. They got in quickly for appointments. “We both ended up having stress tests, which turned out fine, “Diane said. “We were busy with medical appointments as well as getting my father’s house and items ready to sell.” 

The week before the Birdsongs were scheduled to fly to Texas to pick up their truck and trailer and make their way to the campground in Colorado, Dean’s heart started racing again. Dean had a cardioversion procedure (electric shocks to put his heart back into rhythm), but it only lasted a day and a half and it was back out of sync. He was then connected to a 48-hour Holter monitor to record his heart’s activity.

Diane then became ill while accompanying her husband to the doctor’s office for a blood pressure check. “I started feeling sick and clammy, so I asked the nurse if she would take my blood pressure too. The nurse shot out of the room as soon as she saw the reading, and before I knew it, I was whisked off to the Critical Care Unit,” Diane said.

In the meantime, Dean learned that he needed a cardiac ablation to treat his atrial fibrillation, a minimally invasive procedure that can correct heart rhythm problems. 

The next day, the couple’s son drove Dean to HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield for the procedure. On the same day, Diane underwent a cardiac catheterization at Sarah Bush Lincoln. “We’ve been married for 50 years, so we always do things together,” Diane joked.

Thankfully, Dean’s procedure was successful in regulating his heart rhythm, and Diane’s condition didn’t call for surgical intervention. “I had very little blockage. The doctor just changed my medication and put me on a blood thinner,” Diane said. “We had to delay our flight for a few days, but we were able to head out very quickly. It’s been a crazy, crazy year!”

Diane has to watch her heart health very closely. In 2011, she suffered a minor stroke and doctors also discovered she has had a small hole in her heart since birth. “I have a family history of heart disease, but I think my recent condition was brought on by everything going on in my life. It was a chaotic time. We had 44 appointments in 17 days,” she said. Dean’s condition, on the other hand, was unforeseen. In fact, doctors discovered in examining Dean that he had suffered a “silent” heart attack at some point prior. (A silent heart attack is one that occurs without obvious symptoms.)

Back at the campground, Dean and Diane say that they both feel great, yet they are always mindful of their health. They clean 10 cabins and two big bathrooms to earn campground fees and some extra spending money. “We keep quite active and we love it,” Diane said. “We will do it as long as we can. We’ve made good friends with people from all over the world.”

The Birdsongs return to The Heart Center at Sarah Bush Lincoln every six months for checkups, and they call for medical advice while they’re away. “Everyone in The Heart Center is just super. They are so kind, and it doesn’t matter where you are; they will take care of you,” she said. “I would totally trust them with anything – and having that peace of mind makes it easier for us to relax.”

For more information about The Heart Center, call 217 238-4960 or go to


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