Steve Schachtman: Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Photo courtesy of Noah Zaroff Photgraphy

For Steve Schachtman of the Twin Cities, 1999 is a year he’ll never forget. The night before Thanksgiving, his uncle passed away. Just eight hours later, upon arriving at his mother’s home to take her to his aunt’s house, he discovered his mother had also passed away.

However, Steve said, “Even though tragedy hits, something good came of it.”

A few months later, Steve’s own life was saved when he became one of the first patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) to receive a new treatment — an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) — from Minneapolis Heart Institute® (MHI) at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Working in partnership with MHI®, research cardiologists at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® (MHIF) are proud to have pioneered the use of ICD treatment for HCM in 2000. With the use of this technology, physicians are able to save lives and provide new and more positive expectations to HCM patients about living with their disease.

HCM is a genetic heart condition in which the heart walls have too much muscle tissue, making it harder for the heart to pump blood and making the heart vulnerable to potentially lethal rhythm disorders. As many as one in 500 people have HCM, making it the most common genetic heart disease. However, thanks to research and technological advances, treatment for adults with HCM has changed dramatically over the past 10 to 15 years. In fact, at the time of his procedure, Steve said doctors told his wife that if it would’ve been just five years earlier when they diagnosed him, they would have told her to sell their house and move next to a hospital.

“Instead, five years later, there was so much that was available. So much new technology, so many new procedures,” said Steve. “Had it not been for the Minneapolis Heart Institute, and research, after all these years, I wouldn’t be alive,” said Steve, now 71.

While the majority of people who have HCM need little or nothing in the way of treatment interventions, others develop cardiac problems that affect their quality of life or, in some cases, lead to early death. In particular, HCM can cause a dangerously rapid heart rhythm that can lead to sudden cardiac death. HCM has garnered headlines over the years as the leading cause of sudden cardiac arrest in the United States in young athletes.

In Steve’s case, his heart had significant electrical system damage, causing dangerous heart rhythms and putting him at risk for unpredictable cardiac arrest. An ICD can prevent sudden death by delivering a shock that restores the heart’s natural rhythm, thereby definitively changing the course of the disease for many patients. It also uses low-energy pacing as needed to correct slow heart rhythm problems. Over the years, Steve’s defibrillator kept watch over his heart rhythms, however, in 2013, his HCM began to cause severe shortness of breath.

“It got to the point where I couldn’t walk up the stairs anymore. I couldn’t walk up my driveway, I couldn’t do anything,” said Steve.

His MHI cardiology team at the time, Dr. Adrian Almquist and Dr. Barry Maron (who served as director of MHIF’s world-renowned HCM Center for 23 years), determined Steve needed open-heart surgery to remove the excess heart muscle and restore normal heart function. Since MHI does not perform that specific surgery, he was referred to another hospital.

Over the years, Steve has also received coronary stents and battled several serious infections and said, “I never have to worry. The team that has been assembled and continues to be assembled at the Minneapolis Heart Institute® is above excellence in my opinion.”

His care team today includes MHI cardiologists and MHIF researchers Dr. Charles Gornick, Dr. William Katsiyiannis, Dr. John Lesser and Dr. Chuen Tang, along with his infectious disease specialist at Abbott, Dr. Daniel Anderson.

“From the guy who cleans the hallways to the technology people, to the doctors and staff, they put everybody else first and then themselves second,” said Steve.  “That’s what this hospital is all about. And that’s why every single year, for the rest of my life, the foundation will get a gift from our family, as they have for the last 20 years. I will never, ever forget how good they are. If they continue with this research and continue with everything that they are doing, hopefully they’ll find cures for a lot of this stuff.”

Today, Steve lives a heart-healthy and gratitude-filled life. He works out two to three times a week, chooses chicken, fish and turkey instead of red meat, and enjoys a good glass of red wine. He continues his involvement as a shareholder with the firm he founded, Steven Scott Management, Inc., which is one of the largest locally owned property management firms in Minnesota. And he loves spending time with his wife of 50 years, his family and five grandsons, and also hitting the golf course, where he said he’s even hitting a golf ball better.

“I’m so grateful for what they’ve done for me and so grateful for the care that I have,” said Steve. “The Minneapolis Heart Institute has given me a completely new lease on my life; I’ve never felt better. And my heart … I can go on a treadmill today at a four incline, at a three-and-a-half speed, for 40 to 45 minutes. If I could save one person’s life, by the dollars that I give or by the support that I can give to somebody, I’ve succeeded.”