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Serious Medicine. Extraordinary Care.

Living With Heart Failure: Early Treatment Saves Lives and Money

More than half a million Americans were diagnosed with heart failure in 2009. An estimated 300,000 died of heart failure.

Dwayne Burgess was almost one of those diagnosed with heart failure.

Suffering from congestive heart failure, Burgess' heart was pumping at five percent of its normal capacity.

"The doctor told me I had two to four months to live," recalled Burgess. "I wasn't ready to die. I wanted a second opinion."

That opinion came from The Nebraska Medical Center.

"We fitted Dwayne with a Milrinone continuous infusion pump in order to prevent his organs from shutting down so that he might receive a mechanical assist device or even a transplant," explained Ioana Dumitru, MD, heart failure specialist at The Nebraska Medical Center and assistant professor of cardiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. "This continuous IV medication was in addition to the aggressive oral heart failure medicine he was taking."

"With the Lord's blessing, I started getting better," said Burgess. "My heart function went from five percent, to 18-percent, to 30-percent. I improved so much; I didn't need a transplant anymore."

Burgess' heart functions at about 60-percent today.

"Heart failure means the heart is weak and unable to pump enough blood into circulation to support body function." said Dr. Dumitru.

Burgess knows how fortunate he is.

"I went from dying to living. People ask me if I have a hotline to heaven or something," Burgess said with a laugh. "But now my body is catching up with my heart. I'm able to exercise again. I live a very normal life; and it's great."

Treating heart failure early and comprehensively is important. If left untreated, the condition has a lower survival rate than cancer.

"Although heart failure is a treatable condition, the survival rate is still poor," cautioned Dr. Dumitru. "Only 50-percent of patients will survive five years after being diagnosed. Most patients will either die or require a transplant. The key for success of treatment of heart failure is early diagnosis and aggressive medical therapy."

Because of the recurrent nature of heart failure, it has one of the highest hospitalization costs of any condition. According to the American Heart Association, the cost of treating heart failure in the United States was more than $35 billion in 2008.

The Nebraska Medical Center's heart failure program is nationally certified and home to the state of Nebraska's only certified heart failure specialists.