Dr. Peter Schunk plays 18 holes of golf twice a week and sometimes three times a week if he can round up his buddies for a tee time at The Broadmoor Golf Club.
“I’ve got a Jack Nicklaus swing,’’ Schunk said, his 82-year-old eyes twinkling with mischief.
Fifty years ago, Schunk, a retired ophthalmologist, and his wife, Diane, moved to Colorado Springs. They had three children and now have seven grandchildren. In 1967, he joined an ophthalmology practice and spent 42 years there, helping people in Colorado Springs see clearly. In 2009, he stopped fitting people for spectacles and opted for a vision of his own: Making par on the emerald velvet of the Broadmoor’s greens.
Schunk and his wife work out regularly in the fitness center and play golf whenever they can. Schunk still runs leisurely on the treadmill, logging a few miles a week.
Years ago, he had a pacemaker placed to help his heart and a few months back, it detected atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat when the atria — the two top chambers of the heart – beat too fast.
Dr. Schunk met with Dr. Brad Mikaelian, a cardiac electrophysiologist at UCHealth Memorial Hospital. Like many people who have AFib, Schunk could not feel any symptoms. He didn’t feel his heart fluttering like a butterfly, or what has been described as “thumping’’ in the chest – symptoms described by some patients who have AFib.
“Over the decades, AFib has really been downplayed. A lot of people who have AFib don’t even feel it, but it is very important to identify and treat because 20 percent of strokes in the U.S. are the result of AFib,’’ said Dr. Mikaelian.
Mikaelian explained that there are four chambers of the heart – the two upper chambers are the atria and the two lower chambers the ventricles. AFib occurs when the electrical system in the two upper chambers of the heart become chaotic.
“It’s like a bunch of flashes going off at a baseball game,’’ he said. The top part is moving so fast that there is poor blood flow, and that can lead to blood clots that cause strokes.’’
In the heart, there’s a left atrial appendage – a small pouch where 90 to 95 percent of the clots that cause strokes come from. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a device known as the Watchman to help prevent those clots from causing strokes.
Dr. Mikaelian uses a catheter to thread the Watchman, which looks like a small umbrella, through the femoral vein and permanently implants the device in the left atrial appendage to seal off the entire pouch. During the healing process, heart tissue grows over the Watchman, preventing clots from becoming strokes. Dr. Schunk was the 100th patient to have a Watchman procedure performed by a Memorial doctor. One of the biggest advantages is that patients are able to stop taking their prescription blood thinners several weeks after the procedure.
Memorial started doing Watchman procedures in August 2016. The Watchman procedure is also performed at UCHealth’s Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland and the University of Colorado Hospital in metro Denver.
“I’m very happy to say that 100 percent of our patients who have had the watchmen are able to come off of their blood thinners,’’ Mikaelian said.
Mikaelian said patients are happy to come off the blood thinners because of the potential side effects, such as bleeding and stomach problems. In addition, some patients pay $300 to $400 a month for the medication, which is cost-prohibitive for some people.
Memorial’s patients have come mostly from the Colorado Springs area, though 30 percent of patients live on the Western Slope or in other southern Colorado communities.
“Patients are coming from other parts of the state because we’ve had good outcomes and good patient experiences,’’ Mikaelian said.
Dr. Schunk said the surgery was uneventful, and he was out of the hospital the next morning.
“I had no hesitation to do it, and I’m glad I did it,’’ Dr. Schunk said.
“It means to me that I am honored to be here today, to be the 100th patient. It gives me the opportunity to get off of the blood thinners, and I feel good about that. And, mainly, it’s about the prevention of a stroke, because we all know that is not good,’’ he said.
Dr. Schunk said he is grateful for Dr. Mikaelian and for the nice life that he and his wife and their family have built in Colorado Springs.
“Our quality of life is great,’’ he said. “We play golf, work out and everything is good.’’