Erik Olson, 62, was born in Kentucky and raised in the Pacific Northwest. He moved to Burien, Wash., when he got married and that's where he and his wife, Ginny, raised their daughter Kari. It was his daughter's birth that prompted Erik to get a long-neglected checkup.
"I think it was around 1989 that I had the physical and the doctor found a heart murmur," says Erik, who is now retired after working many years for Boeing. Heart murmurs are "whooshing" or "swishing" sounds that can be heard through a stethoscope. Murmurs can indicate an underlying heart problem such as a malfunctioning valve that is forcing the heart to handle more blood more quickly than it normally would.
“I'm not sure I'd be alive now if not for Virginia Mason.”
Most heart murmurs are considered "innocent" — that's why Erik's doctor decided to just keep tabs on him. In 1992, however, Erik's doctor had him visit a cardiac specialist at Virginia Mason where tests revealed Erik had a mitral valve prolapse, or MVP, in which the valve between the heart's upper and lower-left chambers doesn't close properly. In most people, an MVP doesn't require treatment. Erik's, however, was serious enough that it had caused enlargement of his heart. The Virginia Mason cardiologist recommended surgery to repair it.
"I was a little nervous," remembers Erik, "but the experience was a good one. I was really happy, actually elated, by the way I was treated at Virginia Mason every step of the way. Everything was explained to me and I was taken care of as if I was a member of the family."
Erik continued to have regular checkups and in 2006, he was discovered to have atrial fibrillation or AFib, which is a disruption of the electrical signals regulating the heartbeat. AFib can cause mental and physical fatigue and, if left untreated, can be a contributing factor in the development of strokes and heart attacks.
Erik's AFib responded well to medication and he was being seen at a hospital near his home. But in 2013, Erik needed more specialized care. He decided to again be treated at Virginia Mason where his cardiologist recommended a cardiac ablation during which a catheter is inserted through a vein in the groin and threaded to the heart to correct structural problems. Since the ablation, Erik is feeling "fantastic" and credits the care he received at Virginia Mason.
"I'm not sure I'd be alive now if not for Virginia Mason," say Erik. "I always feel that I am in good hands there. You're treated like a human being rather than a mere machine. I feel the Virginia Mason team genuinely cares about me."
Today, Erik watches what he eats and enjoys bike rides and walks around the neighborhood. He says that he feels "great!"