SYRACUSE -- Larry Kerr finally decided to answer one of the insistent phone calls from the Veterans Administration. It's a good thing he did. That phone call saved his life from a potentially deadly heart condition.
Kerr, 65, was home sleeping last week when his phone rang around 10 a.m. He thought it was just the hospital calling to tell him about an appointment they had set up for him.
"I figured they would leave a message, but they didn't. They called again. And then they started calling my cellphone," he said.
The phone call was from a physician at the VA, telling him he needed to get to the emergency room immediately.
"He said, 'I've called 911. You need to get there right now. Right now,'" Kerr said.
Within minutes, the Syracuse and Layton fire, police and EMS were at his door, along with the Davis County Sheriff's Office. They got Kerr out of bed and transported him to Davis Hospital and Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia and fibrillation, a fast and irregular heart rhythm and the leading cause of sudden cardiac death.
"I could have died in my sleep, which isn't a bad way to go, but still, I'm not ready to die," he said. "The hospital stabilized me and then transported me to the VA hospital, and they put a pacemaker and defibrillator in my chest, and I'm doing a lot better."
Kerr was diagnosed with Japanese cardiomyopathy in 1980 while serving in the Air Force. In fact, he said, he was the first American to be diagnosed with the heart condition.
Japanese cardiomyopathy, or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, is named after the fishing pot for trapping octopus, because the left ventricle of a patient with the condition resembles that shape, according to WebMd. The condition, also called Broken Heart Syndrome, is brought on by severe stress or anxiety.
In addition, Kerr was exposed to Agent Orange for six years while serving in the military, and eventually developed cancer from his exposure.
"I've had my health issues that's for sure," he said. "And I had been treated for the cardiomyopathy, but lately I've felt out of breath and just haven't had my usual stamina, so I went to the VA to get checked out."
After running some tests, the doctor sent Kerr home with a Holter monitor, a small device that records the heart rhythm, and said he would be set up with an appointment for a cardiac MRI.
"That was the phone call I thought I was getting. But instead, it was a phone call telling me to get to the hospital immediately," Kerr said.
Kerr said the ventricular tachycardia diagnosis was completely unexpected.
"It came completely out of the blue. I was expecting to die from cardiomyopathy one day. Not sudden death," he said.
"I can't tell you how grateful I am for the doctor at the VA hospital, the doctor at Davis Hospital and all of the Syracuse, Layton and Davis rescue workers. They saved my life. I'm home and recovering and doing well, and they are the reason why."