Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

June 22, 2017

John Livers, 41, had been told he had high blood pressure but it wasn’t until later in life that he decided to get it under control. He also sensed something wasn’t right with his heart but he put those thoughts in the back of his mind. That is until he experienced Atrial fibrillation (AFib) during a work out.

“I thought I was having a heart attack. I was pretty scared,” said the volunteer EMT/firefighter and father of seven.

Atrial fibrillation is a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, and other heart complications. For Livers, a resident of Franklin County, the heart irregularity could be traced back to childhood. He had surgery at age six to manage a congenital heart condition.

Life went on. Livers played high school football and baseball and continued with intramural athletics at Indiana State University. But a year ago he found himself in IU Health Methodist Hospital in the care of Dr. Aaron Kay, a congenital cardiologist and director of the adult congenital heart disease program at IU Health. Livers was diagnosed with tetralogy of Fallot (ToF) – a heart defect that results from heart problems at birth. Those problems include a hole in the heart, a narrow valve between the heart and lungs, a right heart chamber with walls that are too thick, or a major blood vessel that is misplaced or moved. The problems cause the blood entering and leaving the heart to mix. ToF is one of the most common heart defects in infants. Five out every 10,000 babies are born with ToF.

Like many adults with ToF, Livers’ childhood surgery helped him feel better but did not permanently repair his heart. When he went to see Dr. Kay, Livers said he learned more in 35 minutes than he knew in 35 years about his condition. Those consultations eventually lead to a catheter ablation under the direction of cardiologist Dr. Gopi Dandamudi.

Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that helps correct heart rhythm problems like Livers’ irregular heart beats.

“We have patients go for years without any follow up, or complications,” said Kay, who sees about 1,000 patient visits a year – people who have gone from infant to adult congenital heart disease. “It’s important to have an adult specialist. There may be problems lurking in the shadows and we want to catch them before it turns into an emergency,” said Kay.

With coaxing from his wife of nearly 20 years, Monica, Livers got the treatment he needed but he admits it wasn’t a priority.

“ I was reluctant to go to the doctor. It was how I was raised. I was the main income person in our family and I just didn’t feel like I had the time,” said Livers. “My wife finally said, ‘It’s more important for me to be healthy and alive and with seven kids, I have to agree.”

-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at
T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

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