Steve Stults drew a pitching wedge from his bag last month, squared his stance and lofted his golf ball straight up the hill on hole No. 1 at Crestmoor Golf Club in Creston.
It wasn't a pin-seeking shot.
That didn't matter to Stults, though, who came back to his golf cart smiling. He was just happy to be back.
See, that outing — on July 17 to be exact — was the first day the 73-year-old Stults was cleared by his cardiologist to return to the links.
Stults played that afternoon with Dick Johnston, Greg Driskell and Rick Carter. And, he's played with that group — plus Mike Kouri — every Thursday since.
Stults said he's especially relished each day he's been on the course this summer — given just four short months ago he was on an operating table in Des Moines hoping to survive open heart surgery.
After 35 years, Stults retired as an optometrist at Creston Vision Clinic in 2000. He's stayed active since then — walking at least one mile each morning in his neighborhood near McKinley Lake. However, last October he began having chest pains during his walks.
"I thought it was indigestion," Stults said, "but the pains became more frequent heading into the winter months and I noticed they were only occurring when I exercised."
Stults knew he had an annual exam scheduled in April with Dr. Lonny Miller at Greater Regional Medical Center in Creston.
"I decided to wait until then," Stults said.
Come April 18, Stults told Dr. Miller about his shortness of breath and the chest pains he'd been undergoing during exercise. Miller promptly ordered a nuclear stress test for Aug. 22 with Patti Walter — cardiac rehabilitation nurse at Greater Regional.
"He failed the test," said Steve's wife Dee Ann Stults. "She put him on the treadmill for 4 1/2 minutes at a brisk walk. He had trouble. He was exhausted and needed to sit down after about a minute or so."
That testing caused Dr. Miller and Walter to immediately set up an appointment with Dr. James Lovell — one of the cardiologists from Des Moines that see patients at Greater Regional each week. Steve met with him the next day April 23.
"Dr. Lovell told us — Patti told him — he wasn't allowed to leave Creston that day until he saw Steve," Dee Ann said. "We are so fortunate to have a cardiologist and all the other specialty health care professionals that come here to Greater Regional."
During the appointment, Dr. Lovell remarked that Steve "flat-out flunked" the stress test and predicted he would need open heart surgery. Lovell sent Steve to Iowa Methodist in Des Moines April 24 for further investigation whereby doctors found three arteries more than 90 percent blocked.
"My anterior descending artery was 99 percent blocked," Steve said.
Dee Ann added: "He has since been told by several doctors — including Dr. Bob Kuhl — that with that kind of blockage, he's very lucky to be alive."
Steve was scheduled for open heart surgery the next day April 25 with instructions that night not to get out of his hospital bed or move — for fear he'd have a heart attack.
"I sat there all night and watched him," Dee Ann said. "That was a scary night. I didn't sleep."
Steve went under the knife 10 a.m. April 25 and the surgery was successfully completed by Dr. Kent Thieman by about 1:30 p.m. There was one setback during the surgery, however.
"When they pulled my breathing tube out, my lung collapsed," Steve said.
Family was allowed to see Steve shortly after 1:30 p.m. that day. Doctors told Steve, surprisingly, he had suffered no heart damage.
He then spent a total of five days at Iowa Methodist in Des Moines recovering before returning home to Creston.
"It would have been four days if I had not had a lung collapse," Steve said.
Steve continued to recover at home in Creston for just more than one week before starting cardiac rehabilitation with Walter at Greater Regional. They met three times per week for a month and a-half.
"We started with light exercising the first week — five minutes on the bike and treadmill each," Walter said. "We talked about reducing stress and focusing on healthy-living behaviors. He wore a heart monitor when exercising with me and we continually checked his numbers. By the time he was discharged, he was walking and biking for more than 30 minutes each session. He was a model patient."
Stults also met with Ginny Lents — dietary director at Greater Regional — during his one-month cardiac rehabilitation. She gave him a "whole packet of information" on how to create a heart-healthy diet.
"I met with him individually and in a class setting," Lents said. "We educate all our cardiac rehabilitation participants on how to reduce sodium and bad cholesterol in their diets. We give them a heart-healthy cookbook, which Steve's wife was interested in, and we explained how to make food taste good without that extra salt and fat."
Steve said he's given up all fried foods since the open heart surgery and has implemented varieties of fish into his diet under the recommendations of Lents.
"I haven't had a french fry or potato chip since," Steve said. "French fries have been the hardest to give up because they are available every meal."
The Stultses said "we are working on the fish" with tilapia being their favorite, thusfar, and cod their least favorite. Steve has also replaced canned vegetables — often laden with salt — with frozen vegetables.
Steve continues to strengthen his heart with this new diet. And, he also walks for a half hour five to six times per week.
He said — while the past four months have been stressful and somewhat dramatic — he's beyond thankful for all the community support and the excellent care he's received at Greater Regional Medical Center.
"I received 90 percent of my care in Creston," Steve said. "I've done everything at Greater Regional except the open heart surgery and a catheterization. We are so lucky to have these health professionals right here for us. Looking back now — the way they worked so quickly — they may very well have saved my life. And, if I had advice for others, it would be to pay attention to any chest pain. Just get it checked out."