EL DORADO, Kan. (KSNW) – Mike Miller says he lived a pretty active lifestyle. He enjoyed cycling and was on his feet six days a week as a car dealership manager.
“No history of any medical issues like this at all. I was healthy. I was always the guy that never went to the doctor because, you know, if I got sick, I was healthy within 24 hours,” he said.
But last Spring, Mike developed a severe cough, congestion, and chest pain.
He was initially treated for bronchitis, then pneumonia. But his condition progressively worsened. It wasn’t until another symptom came along that Mike got his final diagnosis.
“Between November and December, I gained approximately 40 to 50 pounds out of nowhere, which they’re attributing now to water weight due to water retention from heart disease. So that’s when they started to do some of the testing for heart-related issues. When they did that, I was officially diagnosed with stage 4 congestive heart failure on December 27th,” said Mike.
He was hospitalized on New Year’s Eve, with his heart at just 20% of its normal function. He is 36 years old with no genetic history of heart problems.
Mike is currently being treated at the University of Kansas Medical Center. His doctor says age is not a defining factor in heart problems, and they are more common than believed by many practitioners.
“We can have patients who have what we call idiopathic, or we have not found a cause, which, even up to 40% of patients really don’t have a reason behind why they have congestive heart failure,” said Dr. Andrija Vidic, KU Medical’s Director of Transplant.
Mike first underwent mitral valve replacement surgery but required further treatment.
“When you have stage four heart failure, it’s basically one of the worst prognoses one can have. It’s actually worse than any cancer because overall survival is very poor,” said Dr. Vidic. “It’s measured in months, and average survival is six to nine months if you are diagnosed in stage four.”
Mike was initially told a heart transplant was his best option for survival, but he struggled to find a donor match. Dr. Vidic says Mike has undergone rehabilitation in the meantime. The goal is to improve Mike’s heart function so he will not need a transplant. It is a preferred option because organ donations are scarce.
“Overtime we have noticed that Mike’s heart has actually improved with all the therapy provided, and he is currently inactive on the heart transplant list, with a plan, if he continues to progress, to take him off the heart transplant list, as he is responding well to therapy,” said Dr. Vidic.
While hope still remains for Mike’s possible recovery, his journey has been physically and mentally strenuous.
“I think I’ve lost about 82 pounds. So lots of muscle mass gone, lots of just body weight in general gone. And you know, with having so many IVs and everything, it’s been very difficult for me to get up and out of bed and walk,” said Mike.
As he continues fighting, Mike’s family is working hard to rally both emotional and economic support for him.
“He gets depressed and upset, but you know, I just want him to know that no matter what, we’re always here to support him,” said Mike’s brother Josh Miller. “If anybody talked to my brother, they would definitely say, man, that’s a strong guy right there. And you can obviously see it through all the stuff that he’s been through. That he’s been taking hits left and right, but you know he’s still pulling through it.”
Dr. Vidic says it’s important to go to the doctor as soon as you begin experiencing respiratory issues.
“If you continue to have symptoms of shortness of breath, cough … you know, some that could be misconstrued as respiratory symptoms, you should make sure that you know congestive heart failure is ruled out,” said Dr. Vidic. “And it’s very important to get your risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, under control. As that will lessen your chances of developing congestive heart failure.”
Mike says he would have gone to the doctor sooner but avoided it because of the cost. Now, he says his estimated total of medical bills is in the millions.
“The biggest thing I can say is if you’re experiencing any of those symptoms, go to the doctor, get it checked out. It’s not worth waiting. It’s not worth trying to penny-pinch or save the money. Go get checked out,” said Mike.