Your Body is Trying to Tell You Something
At age 60, Lynwood “Allan” Dickens is a semi-retired probation officer with the North Carolina Department of Corrections. He’s also a “Crazy”.
Two years ago, Dickens joined a group of men and women who call themselves The Five O’clock Crazies. Five mornings a week, The Five O’clock Crazies roll out of bed and go to the Rocky Mount YMCA for a group exercise class. In the thick of the action is Dickens, jokingly taunting his peers: “What’re you doing with those girlie-man weights?” Dickens confesses he does just four days, but he gives it his all at every session and even walks two miles after every class.
One day, something surprising happened. “I walked up the steps in the Y and was out of breath before I even did my workout,” said Dickens. His shortness of breath worsened during the next three months. “At first I thought it was just because I turned 60 and it was no big deal, but it kept getting worse. But I know my body. Even though I was big and had a heart defect from birth, I was fit and I shouldn’t have been getting so out of breath,” explained Dickens. He was born with a faulty heart valve, which was likely the cause of his diagnosis in mid 2007 of moderate aortic stenosis.
Dickens saw his primary care doctor, who performed an echocardiogram (a test to determine how well the heart is working). “After he was done, my doctor sat me down and told me I was fine,” recalled Dickens. “I said ‘No sir, there’s something wrong.’” The results of Dickens’ echocardiogram were inconclusive, but knowing that something wasn’t quite right, he convinced his doctor to schedule a second echocardiogram.
“You’re in trouble,” were the exact words Dickens’ primary care physician used when discussing the results of his second echocardiogram. Dickens’ aortic stenosis had significantly worsened. He needed further testing to determine the right treatment for his condition.
“I wanted to go to WakeMed and WakeMed Heart & Vascular Physicians because I saw the great care my dad and my friend got when they were there,” explained Dickens.
On March 22, 2013, Dickens met with Dr. Charles Mangano, a cardiologist with WakeMed Heart & Vascular. Oddly enough, “You’re in trouble” – the same words spoken by Dickens’ family doctor – were used by Dr. Mangano to define his heart condition. “He told me my arteries were perfectly clear, but my aortic valve was shot,” said Dickens.
Five days later, Dickens and his wife were in the office of Dr. William Killinger, a cardiothoracic surgeon with Carolina Cardiovascular Surgical Associates. “I really didn’t get how serious my condition was,” said Dickens. “I even asked Dr. Killinger if I could put off the surgery until after my son and I went turkey hunting.”
Dr. Killinger’s explanation of his condition made Dickens quickly understand its severity. “He told me my heart was extremely enlarged and the pressure inside it was at 100 pounds when it should be about 10,” said Dickens. “He also said my valve was opening to the size of a pencil eraser when it should be the size of a nickel.”
At 5 a.m., April 1, Dickens arrived at the WakeMed Heart Center for his valve replacement surgery. “From the moment I got to the Heart Center, the nurses were working to put me at ease,” said Dickens. “I knew I was in the right hands.”
The next thing Dickens remembered was waking up in the WakeMed Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit and seeing his daughter. “I felt really good; I didn’t have any pain,” Dickens recalled. Dickens was also impressed with the nursing care he received and credits his nurses for keeping him worryfree as well as confident that he would fully recover soon. “It was unreal the quality of care I received,” he explained. “I got the best WakeMed had to offer.”
On May 1, Dickens returned to the Rocky Mount YMCA and started exercising. Then on June 1, he triumphantly returned to The Five O’clock Crazies class with the pronouncement: “I’m back!”
Today, Dickens is back to lifting 50-pound weights with his classmates, who keep a close eye on him as does his wife, Janice, of 41 years. He is also proactive about sharing his important advice with others. During a recent talk he gave at Fellowship of Praise Church, he offered the congregation the following advice: “Look, guys, don’t think that it’s because you’re 60 years old. Don’t shrug it off when you don’t feel right. Go to the doctor and get checked. If you’re not satisfied with your doctor’s diagnosis, insist on more.”