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John's Story

H2H - Fall 2011 man's best friend

"It’s hard to stop a beagle once he picks up a scent,” said John Baringer, owner of Jiggs, a very persistent beagle whose antics preceded a serious heart episode for his master.

John and his family, including Jiggs, were on the water one Saturday on John’s award-winning antique 1931 24-ft. mahogany Chris Craft boat, which he restored to perfection. Like most dogs, Jiggs was in and out of the water having a wonderful time. Later that day, they returned home to Wake Forest, boat in tow.

On Sunday evening, John was setting up a canopy to protect his boat when the barking started. “Jiggs ran to the edge of the lawn where the invisible fence is,” said John. “He didn’t want to cross the line, but there was something out there he just had to chase down.” It turned out that John forgot to take the dog’s invisible fence collar off the day before when the dog was swimming. The battery contacts corroded and the device failed to work, making it easy for Jiggs to leave their property and run up the road.

John ran after the dog and Nancy, John’s wife, soon followed in the truck because Jiggs was known to run quite far during his chases. John caught Jiggs and put him in the truck with Nancy. Instead of riding back to the house with them, John decided to walk. “I didn’t get more than 10 feet when things started to spin,” said John. He put his hands on his knees, sat down on the side of the road and then lay down. Nancy got out of the truck and ran over to see if he was OK. He wasn’t.

Meanwhile, Donny Smith, the Baringers’ neighbor, looked outside and saw John on the ground. He called to his wife, Brook, who happens to be a WakeMed nurse. Brook ran to John’s aid. His skin was blue and he was not breathing. Brook gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while Donny called emergency medical services (EMS).

“Three minutes later I woke up gasping for air in the arms of a woman I didn’t know,” said John. “I was so confused.” Once on the scene, the EMS providers knew John was having a serious heart episode and rushed him to WakeMed North Healthplex where he underwent a battery of tests.

The results pointed to extremely compromised bicuspid aortic and ascending valves, both of which needed to be replaced sooner than later. Without the aid of Brook and her cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills and the quick arrival of EMS, doctors told John his episode probably would have been fatal.

“I’ve known I had a heart murmur for 30 years, but I wasn’t really worried about it,” said John. “I had some tests about two years ago when I lived near the Outer Banks. The doctor said my heart murmur was loud but didn’t seem to think I needed surgery at that point. I’m very fit, have a great diet and I’ve never smoked. Plus, I was only 46 at the time. I figured that counted for something.” John quickly learned that, while a good diet and an active lifestyle can help prevent blocked arteries and other forms of heart disease, they really do not have an impact on heart valve conditions.

John opted for biologic valve replacements. “I’m a boat engineer, and I do a few boat restorations as a hobby, which means I work with my hands a lot. Nicks and cuts are a part of my life, so I really didn’t want to be on blood thinners. I know I will likely face another valve replacement surgery at some point due to my younger age, but right now the biologic valve is the best option for me.”

Today, John is back to work at the office and continuing to enjoy his boat, all the while continuing his commitment to fitness. And Jiggs? “I’m still not sure if he did me a favor by triggering my collapse in a usual, but lucky, place rather than while I was driving or alone doing something, or even if I should be mad at him. Either way, I guess we’ll keep him.”