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Preventive testing pays
off big for police chief

Dennis Bullinger knew he had much he needed and wanted to do in life. What he didn’t know was that he had severe blockages in his heart that could have led to a serious heart attack.

The Mandan police chief had multiple risk factors for heart disease—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and a family history of heart disease. On top of that, he had been a pack-a-day smoker for 43 years.

“Dennis had been coming in regularly to keep his blood pressure and cholesterol under control,” said Dr. Darwin Lange, family medicine doctor at Sanford North Mandan Clinic. “However, he was getting older and still smoked. Most recently, he became diabetic. The combination of time and risk factors looked discouraging.”

Dr. Lange, Bullinger’s primary care doctor,
  Dennis Bullinger, chief of the Mandan Police Department.
Dennis Bullinger, chief of the Mandan Police Department, had bypass surgery that likely prevented a major heart attack.
knew the patient’s history and ordered a stress test—a test for heart disease—that revealed Bullinger’s heart was not distributing blood normally. He referred Bullinger to Dr. Karthik Reddy, Sanford cardiologist.

Dr. Darwin Lange
Lange, MD

Family Medicine

Dr. Karthik Reddy
Reddy, MD

  “With my family history and risk factors, I knew eventually I would have to have some kind of testing,” Bullinger, 60 said. “I was expecting to hear there was a small blockage that could be treated with a stent. That was wishful thinking.”

The next few days took him from wishful thinking to reality.

“Dennis required an angiogram based on the stress test results and his multiple risk factors,” Dr. Reddy said. “In addition, he also had been experiencing burning in his chest he had attributed to acid reflux. This burning could have been a symptom of blockage.”

The angiogram, an X-ray of the blood vessels, showed multiple blockages, including an artery that was 90 percent closed.

“Because of the location, severity and number of the blockages, Dennis required triple bypass surgery,” Dr. Reddy said. “If these blockages had not been detected, he certainly could have had a significant heart attack resulting in death.”

Bullinger was hospitalized after his angiogram and underwent bypass surgery May 10. Along with the surgery came his decision to make immediate lifestyle changes. The first was quitting smoking.

“My children and grandchildren have been telling me for years to stop,” he said. “After the surgery, the lightbulb went on. I now encourage others to strongly consider stopping smoking. It’s going to catch up with you someday.”

His recovery required a seven-week leave from his position as chief of the Mandan Police Department.

After completing cardiac rehabilitation at Sanford Health, Bullinger continued a regular exercise routine and now uses a bike or treadmill daily. He also eats a healthier diet and watches portions.

“Before my bypass, it was coffee, cigarettes and work,” he said. “I look back at some of the unhealthy decisions I made, and making changes wasn’t that hard. I could have done this a whole lot sooner.”

He and his wife, Sandy, have three married sons and eight grandchildren, who provided extra motivation.

“I want to be here to watch our grandchildren graduate and attend their weddings,” he said. “I know I have to make the changes for that to happen. I still have room for improvement, but I know I am making healthier choices. I feel better than before the surgery and have much more energy.”

He will continue to see both Dr. Reddy and Dr. Lange for regular follow-up care.

“Our goal is to prevent further blockages from forming by providing good control of his blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes,” Dr. Reddy said.

Dr. Lange emphasized the importance of Bullinger’s lifestyle changes. “The benefits of his not smoking are enormous,” he said.

Bullinger extends his thanks to all involved in his care.

“I’m grateful to have both Dr. Lange and Dr. Reddy as my doctors,” he said. “From the testing through surgery and cardiac rehab, the entire staff at Sanford Health was outstanding. I know they enjoy their profession. I believe their positive attitudes played an important role in my healing.”

He knows there could have been a much different outcome if the blockage had not been found.

“I know how lucky I am.”

Click here for more information on Sanford Cardiology or call (701) 323-5202.


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