Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Winter of 1996 brought upon more than just a blizzard for then 52-year-old Henry Eekhoff, or otherwise known as “Coach Eekhoff” of the Sibley-Ocheyedan Generals women’s basketball team.

While getting prepped for a basketball game on a Monday night, a flurry began forming outside. As the snow grew heavier, he thought he should go shovel his driveway before he left to stay ahead of the ice. “After a few minutes of shoveling, my chest felt real tight,” Coach Eekhoff recalled. He made the trek through his half-shoveled driveway and made it inside to lay down on the couch. “I told my wife I wasn’t feeling very good, and as I kept laying there the pain was just getting worse.”

As his wife, Judy, monitored him, she made the decision to take him to the hospital, which at the time was Avera McKennan Heart Hospital of Sibley. “Back then, they didn’t have the proper facility to accommodate for my surgery in a week’s time, so I stayed for a week and was infused with nitro.”

Coach Eekhoff reflected on this painful experience, stating it was an “awful week”. Technology has changed much since, with patients needing heart surgery nowadays having advantage to get in day-of via emergency or scheduled within the next few days of their incident, depending on the seriousness of their case.

Regardless of the inadequate service at the time, the resilient coach made it through, and a quadruple bypass surgery he successfully endured. Better, stronger weeks were ahead.

“Before a bypass surgery, you can lift your feet in and out of bed with no problem if you don’t have other issues. But after you have the procedure, you can’t even get your feet in bed by yourself. The muscles in your chest are in so much pain,” recalled Eekhoff. “But I tell you, rehab is the most important part. Without it, I don’t know how people survive. I would recommend cardiac rehab to anyone.”

Coach Eekhoff continued to watch the S-O Generals basketball team win the state championship in 1996 after completing his bypass surgery and cardiac rehab program. “Taking it easy” is not in Eekhoff’s vocabulary. As a coach he had natural aptitude in facing challenges head-on with bigger faith than fear.

Coach Eekhoff’s coaching days of 41 years may be over, but he continues to find joy in coaching himself. “Ever since I got through my surgery, I have continued to walk, paint, golf and more, any opportunity I get. I understand the importance of keeping my heart in shape, which includes lots of exercise.”

Studies show that regular exercise for 30 minutes or more a day reduces the risk of heart disease by nearly 21 percent. Moreover, improved cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and weight loss can be lowered by as many as five to seven points.

Nearly 20 years of active and happy years later in 2016, Coach Eekhoff learned he would need another bypass surgery. He’d done this all before, and it would be no problem getting it done again: with the help of Osceola Regional Health Center cardiac rehab team and Dr. Hibbard on his side, he was “ready to roll”.

Within three weeks, he had completed his bypass surgery in Sioux Falls and onto cardiac rehab with nurses Darlene Jurgens, Kathy Klaassen, and Mary Gacke. Together, they customized his program, allowing him to get back to life as he knew it. “They monitored me and gave me the right exercises to get my strength back, like walking on the treadmill, using the exercise bike, they had it down to a ‘T’. They do a great job.”

Darlene Jurgens, RN has worked with cardiac rehab patients at Osceola Regional Health Center for over 25 years. Many cardiac rehab patients share that working with the nurse, lovingly nicknamed ‘Dar’, is one of their highlights of going through the program.

“It’s very rewarding working with cardiac rehab patients,” shares Dar. “Coach Eekhoff is someone who led a very active lifestyle and desired to return to it. By attending cardiac rehab, we were able to help him reach his goals. He continues to make exercise and nutritious diet a permanent part of his lifestyle.”

Patients like Coach Eekhoff who continue exercise programs, reduce stress, avoid smoking, and learn to manage their medication encounter the most success post-rehab. After bypass patients complete their post-op cardiac rehab, many remain symptom-free for 10-15 years on average.

Since finishing his bypass surgery and cardiac rehab program, Coach Eekhoff regularly sees cardiologist Dr. Hibbard at Osceola Regional Health Center for annual heart check-ups. “Dr. Hibbard is really intelligent and personable. We’re lucky to have the doctors and specialists we have here in Sibley.” Conveniently, getting specialty care is blocks away from Henry’s home.

Getting to the heart of the matter, Coach Eekhoff shares what receiving local cardiology care means to him. “I know folks who say, ‘I’ll go to Worthington’ or ‘I’ll go to Sheldon’ for my care, and I say, ‘Why? They know exactly how to handle you right here in Sibley.'”

Osceola Regional Health Center hosts three cardiologists on-site: Dr. Hibbard, Dr. Scott, and Dr. Watt. Additionally, Planet Heart, their local heart and vascular screening service, offers full heart screening which provides a full view of heart health and ample opportunity to seek other services such as a visit with a local Cardiologist and Cardiac Rehab.

“I’ve been alright for the past 18 years and I feel good to go another 18 years,” Coach Eekhoff’s face broke into a smile, his abundant laughter brightening the room. It would be hard for one to guess a healthy man like him had ever had a heart issue. Thanks to ORHC, he stays ahead of further issues by receiving preventative care locally.

Coach Eekhoff continues to drive bus for the local children, watch basketball, paint voluntarily for people, and play some rounds of golf here or there, using candy kisses as balls with his neighbor kids now and then.

All these things require a good heart, and Eekhoff has just that.

To learn more about ORHC’s cardiac rehab program, call 712-754-5368 or visit our cardiac rehab page.