Patient Profile: Meet John Snethen

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John Snethen spends a lot of time running. He runs marathons, he runs at 5:00 in the morning, and he runs after three beautiful children who keep him moving non-stop. When a heart condition threatened to slow him down, the cost of medical testing seemed like a hurdle he couldn’t overcome – until the cardiologist and nurse who refused to give up on him told John about MDsave.

Tell us about yourself. What do you want everyone to know about you?

“Well, my first and most important job is being a father. It is the best and most rewarding job there is. I have three beautiful children that keep me going non-stop and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

What do you do for a living?

“My ‘job’ job is that I am a prosthetic tech – I build artificial legs. It’s a fun and rewarding job, but nonetheless, work is work.”

What are you passionate about?

“I became passionate about running about two years ago, and found that it was something I could push myself at while not actually being a winner or loser for the most part. I always hated failing and there really isn’t any failing at running. As long as one leg is in front of the other and you are still trying, then you are doing it right. As I ran more and more I became faster and met a great group of people that really push me and make me a better me. We often meet four to five times a week at the ungodly hour of 5:00 a.m. and run anywhere between 9 and 20 miles (20 milers are usually once a week and normally on a weekend). It’s amazing to have such a great group of people, and something I feel so accomplished at.”

Now, John runs marathons. He’s participated in the Oklahoma City Marathon which he’s also paced, the Salt Lake City marathon, the Bryan/College Station Marathon, and at the time of this writing, he’s also looking forward to the Phoenix Marathon.

When did you realize there might be something wrong?

“Shortly after I had finished my third marathon, roughly three to four weeks after it. I was experiencing a really weird lightheaded feeling and dizziness when I finally just passed out. I went to an after-hours clinic and they did an EKG [electrocardiogram] on me because I have a family history of heart problems. It was abnormal, so they sent me to a specialist who wanted to run about four more tests to see why my EKG was so abnormal.”

An EKG is a test that measures electrical activity in the heart. Every time the heart beats, an electrical impulse, called a wave, travels through the heart and causes the heart muscle to pump blood. The EKG measures how long it takes for the heart to pump blood through its four chambers, as well as the amount of electrical activity it takes to move the blood. This way, a cardiologist can see if any parts of the heart are enlarged or working too hard, which can indicate a heart problem.[i]

What happened when you tried to schedule your follow-up tests?

“When I received a phone call to set up an appointment, they let me know that just these few tests were going to cost well over $10,000. Part of me wanted to just say ‘no, I’m not even going to bother with these. I’m 28 years old. I’m healthy. Surely nothing is wrong with me.’ No 28-year-old with three kids is going to put all that money on just one abnormal EKG.”

How did you find out about MDsave?

“When I called the cardiologist’s office back, they told me to check with MDsave before just giving up and not doing the tests. If I hadn’t had MDsave there to help me out with the costs, then I most likely wouldn’t even have done these tests.”

MDsave is an online healthcare marketplace that contracts with doctors to offer savings of up to 60% on out-of-pocket healthcare costs. MDsave isn’t a healthcare provider or an insurance company – it’s a lot like an online shopping cart for medical procedures. Prices are listed up front, compared with others in the area, and patients can read and write quality reviews for every provider. MDsave contracts with local doctors and hospitals, so patients can book with providers they know and trust, and because everything is paid up front, there are no medical bills later.

Did you end up going ahead with the testing?

“I did the test, which lead to a lot more tests and even some time in the hospital later on. I’m glad MDsave was there.”

What tests did you get through MDsave?

“I got a stress test, an echocardiogram, a Holter monitor, and an esophageal scope.”

A stress test is also known as a treadmill test or an exercise test. When you exercise, your body requires more oxygen and the heart has to pump harder to provide it. The stress test measures heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, EKG, and fatigue.[ii] An echocardiogram is an ultrasound that measures the function of the heart, including blood flow and valve leakage.[iii] A Holter monitor is a portable device that records your heart activity during your daily routine. This continuous measurement taken during daily activity is called an ambulatory electrocardiogram.[iv] The esophageal scope allows the doctor to take a detailed ultrasound of the heart, its valves, and its blood vessels (an echocardiogram) from inside the chest cavity. An endoscope is run down the esophagus until the transducer is behind the heart, where the imaging is done. This test is used to detect heart conditions like heart valve disease, tumors, blood clots, or aneurysms.[v]

What was your diagnosis?

“I have an aortic valve deformity. It’s probably been there since I was born, but it was never deformed enough to make a difference until now. It’s gradually becoming more oval-shaped. The deformity means that sometimes the valve doesn’t work properly, and some blood regurgitates [flows backwards] into the wrong chamber. I was passing out because dehydration thickens your blood, and that makes your heart work harder. The walls of the top chamber of my heart were pressing together, which caused the fainting.”

What do you have to do to treat your valve deformity?

“The doctor told me that if I had been overweight or older or a smoker then it may have already needed to be replaced, but because I take care of myself and run, the surgery can be put off for some time now. Another ten years or so. The doctor said the running is strengthening the heart muscles around my aorta.”

How are you feeling now?

“I am perfectly fine and still run, but at least I know that I do have a deformed heart valve that over time will need to be replaced – but not any time soon. MDsave helped me get the tests I needed to get answers, and now I have the peace of mind to keep doing something I love and the peace of mind to know I will be around for my family.”

How would you describe working with MDsave?

“My experience with MDsave was amazing. They were and continue to be some of the most helpful medical care people I have ever dealt with. They even helped me by working with my cardiologist to add procedures to MDsave that I was going to need later.”

John needed two rounds of Holter monitoring – one round for seven days, and one round for 30 – but the cost of the monitors was prohibitive. John and his cardiologist worked with the MDsave team to get the procedure added to the MDsave healthcare marketplace, so he and other cardiac patients could benefit from the diagnostic testing at a price that made the tests possible. Through the MDsave marketplace, Holter monitoring is now available for 50% – 60% less than the national average rate.

“I feel like they actually care for my wellbeing. I feel like most healthcare companies only see me as a paycheck, a way to make another dollar in their pocket. I mean, how could I not feel that way, when if you don’t have insurance, people are a lot more likely to give you a better deal most of the time? MDsave was different. They see me as a person.”

Today, John is up and running, and he is looking forward to participating in the 2016 Phoenix Marathon in February. Though John will have to deal with his heart valve defect for the rest of his life, he and his cardiologist are working together to keep it from slowing him down.

[i] http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/SymptomsDiagnosisofHeartAttack/Electrocardiogram-ECG-or-EKG_UCM_309050_Article.jsp#.VljK0PmrRhE

[ii] http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/SymptomsDiagnosisofHeartAttack/Exercise-Stress-Test_UCM_307474_Article.jsp#.VljXZvmrRhE

[iii] http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/SymptomsDiagnosisofHeartAttack/Echocardiogram—Echo_UCM_451485_Article.jsp#.VljXPPmrRhG

[iv] http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/SymptomsDiagnosisofHeartAttack/Holter-Monitor_UCM_446437_Article.jsp#.VljXKPmrRhF

[v] http://www.upmc.com/patients-visitors/education/cardiology/Pages/tee.aspx

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