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'She Saved My Life'

‘She Saved My Life’

September 25, 2023 Posted in: Heart & Vascular Care  3 minute read time

Rachel Decoster, APRN, became a family medicine advanced practice provider to make a difference in people’s lives. For Clark County Sheriff Berl Perdue, she did just that … in a big way.

“She saved my life,” Perdue said. “She had found irregularities in an EKG she had run and told me I needed to go to a cardiologist.” She shared the full list of symptoms for heart disease and stressed the importance of following up.

But it wasn’t that simple. He waited a year to make an appointment, canceled a few times, but Decoster kept prodding him to follow through on her recommendation.

Perdue, 65, had no symptoms and “I told her I knew there wasn’t anything wrong with me.” 

Finally, he saw the cardiologist, who told him he “flunked” a series of tests, including a heart catheterization, which revealed a 98 percent blockage in his main artery and 75 percent in three others.

“The doctor said you have two choices, either have bypass surgery or go home and wait for the heart attack that would kill you.”

Rachel DeCoster

At that point, Perdue was convinced and the doctor was able to get him in quickly with Dr. Robert Salley, a cardiac surgeon who recently retired from Saint Joseph Hospital.

“If it hadn’t been for Rachel finding that problem with EKG and staying on me and staying on me, I might not be here today,” Perdue said.

Decoster knows what it’s like when those cardiac situations happen in an emergent situation. A former registered nurse in the emergency department, she had seen many people come through the doors having a heart attack. She kept thinking that, with preventive care, some of those heart attacks could have been stopped.

“I wanted to be the one on the other side of that … the person that prevents patients from being in the ED,” she said. “I loved the ER too. But you don’t have the opportunity to know the patients. As an APRN, you have that relationship with the patient and it’s a very different scenario.”

And that, she said, is often what makes the difference. Advanced practice providers in family medicine see a myriad of different patients each day. She enjoys working with patients on preventive care, as well as managing complex health problems. If the health problem is outside her scope of practice, she refers to specialists, as she did in Perdue’s case.

She knew his issues, his health habits and family history. But while he wasn’t symptomatic and said he felt fine, Decoster was concerned. She believes the relationship she was able to build with Perdue as his primary care provider helped her to convince him to address the issue.

“The relationship was the most of it,” she said. “I feel like he had a trust with me that he realized that he could tell with me that I was saying this out of deep concern. You have to be honest and get to a comfort level to be able to connect with them. That’s one thing about family medicine is that we see them often and they do get to know you.”

Perdue’s surgery was in 2020 and he said he’s now a model patient. “I used to be a stubborn patient, I’m not now,” he said. “I watch my diet like a vulture watches roadkill.”

He credits Decoster with making him see that changes were needed. That provides a sense of fulfillment for Decoster.

“It makes you realize how important your job is and it gives you something to work for every day,” she said. “It gives you a sense of fulfillment knowing that you’re making a difference in people’s lives.”

Sept. 25-29 is Advanced Practice Provider Week, a week to celebrate and recognize the integral role Advanced Practice Providers play in health care across the care continuum.

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