Retired officer rehabs his way back from ‘widow maker’

Randy Mendenhall of Neoga shouldn't be here. In late July, the 65-year-old retired law enforcement officer suffered a heart attack.

"They called it 'the widow maker,'" Mendenhall said.

This type of dangerous heart attack happens when plaque buildup in a partially blocked major artery breaks free and blocks blood flow. It causes a big heart attack and is often fatal.

Randy Mendenhall is here—here to play with his first great-grandchild, restore antique tractors, serve as commander of Neoga American Legion Post 458 and drive the school bus for Neoga School District students.

"The hospital in Mattoon decided I had to go to Carle for treatment. I flew to Urbana by helicopter," Mendenhall said. "I was in the operating room 10 minutes after the chopper touched down on Carle's helipad. Dr. Adoni put in two stents and I survived."

Naveed Adoni, MD, a fellowship-trained cardiologist, says folks who suffer a heart attack can have hope.

"The key is getting the person to a hospital with high-tech treatments quickly, and that's what happened with Mr. Mendenhall," Dr. Adoni said.

Mendenhall benefits long-term by going to Carle Heart and Vascular Institute in Mattoon-Charleston. He rehabs there and sees a cardiologist committed to people in Coles and the surrounding counties. 

Karen Wiarda, DO, sees patients in Mattoon exclusively five days a week.

"By being based here, we can diagnose heart problems and then follow up more easily with folks like Mr. Mendenhall in Mattoon after their procedure. This allows people to get care close to home, rather than driving to another community like Champaign, Decatur or Springfield," Dr. Wiarda said.

Mendenhall likes seeing his doctor where he does his cardiac rehab.

"After I exercise, I'll stop by Dr. Wiarda's office and if she's not busy, I'll say hello. If I have a quick question about rehab, she's happy to answer it," he said.

"I am a blessed person."

Dr. Wiarda is working to help Mendenhall and other patients continue to count their blessings.