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STORIES FROM THE HEART: Longtime Boy Scout leader no longer taking chances with his health

Published: 9:00 am CDT, June 26, 2014

Jose Lepervanche knew he was at risk of a cardiac event. He even tried to prevent it.

He just wasn’t able to keep trying.

Not even after the first time his heart faltered.

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Jose’s heart journey began in the early 1990s, while living in his native Venezuela. After experiencing some chest pain, a checkup showed his cholesterol was rising and he needed to take better care of his health.

He tried finding more time to exercise, but admits, “I just wasn’t very consistent about it.”

Jose’s job transferred him and his family to Miami in 1994 and his schedule got even busier. As he traveled internationally, exercise and healthy eating again slid down his priority list.

In 2001, a doctor recommended he start taking statins, but Jose was reluctant because of potential side effects on his liver. He also vowed to stick with a better diet and more exercise. He took the medication, but not regularly.

Next came an attempt to slow his lifestyle and focus more on his health, first with a job as a professor of management and information systems at American Intercontinental University in Weston, Florida, then other online universities.

Still, the damage was done.

While backpacking with his son in Ocala State Forest, Jose felt fatigued, dizzy and oddly cold.

“My son joked that those were symptoms of a heart attack,” Jose said.

A follow-up visit with the doctor showed indeed Jose had experienced a minor heart attack. That’s also when he learned his cholesterol remained high, and he had some minor blockages that may one day require stents (tiny mesh-like tubes that prop open arteries).

This time, when the doctor prescribed medication, he took it as directed.

He also took healthy eating more seriously, dropping from 230 pounds to 205.

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Two years later, Jose was in the woods again, this time at the Woodruff Scout Reservation near Blairsville, Georgia.

A leader in the Boy Scouts for more than 25 years, Jose was the Scoutmaster on this trip for a group of 25 scouts and eight adults.

Jose collapsed while talking to some scouts. He’d gone into sudden cardiac arrest.

His son Alejandro, who was 15 at the time, called for help, and five other scout leaders (Kevin Newman, Coleen Harris, Phyllis Saxon, Mark Tolleson and Brian Buchanan) applied CPR while waiting for the ambulance, stopping only to apply five shocks by the automated external defibrillator (AED) brought by camp Emergency Medical Technician Brian Hendrick. The senior youth leader, Scott Fleischmann, and his youth leadership scouts directed the troop members to spread out in the road with flashlights to guide the ambulance, which arrived 45 minutes later.

Still unconscious, Jose was taken to the local hospital, then transferred to the Ronnie Green Heart Center at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, Georgia, with his wife, Flor; Alejandro and another son, 25-year-old Daniel, at his side.

Doctors used therapeutic hypothermia to protect Jose’s organs and limit the risks of brain damage. He regained consciousness two days later, then underwent a catheter procedure and quadruple bypass. A few days later, doctors installed an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which uses electrical pulses or shocks to help control life-threatening arrhythmias, especially those that can cause sudden cardiac arrest.

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Three months later, Jose was back camping with his Boy Scout troop. A year later, he was cleared to return to more rigorous activities, including caving, repelling and white water rafting.

“I just need that experience of camping to re-energize,” he said.

The cardiac arrest occurred July 1, 2007 – so he’s celebrating his 7-year anniversary of a second chance at life.

Jose, who just turned 60, is making the most of it by keeping himself fit through walking and his Boy Scout activities. He makes sure to wear a heart rate monitor when doing more strenuous activities such as his regular Zumba class.

His ICD has shocked him four times, once during a 15K race. Jose limits himself to 5K races now and is careful to keep his heart rate in a safe zone.

He rarely eats red meat, focusing on healthy portions of fish, lean poultry and vegetables. He takes a daily aspirin, plus beta blockers and cholesterol medication.

Following his sudden cardiac arrest, Jose has been involved in raising awareness about CPR and heart health through the American Heart Association. He participates in the annual Heart Walk and speaks frequently on heart-related issues. A video about his experience is used in local Boy Scout CPR and AED training.

“I think everyone should know how to CPR, because you never know when something like this is going to happen,” he said.

He treasures his second chance at life. Cardiac arrest is often fatal, with only 10 percent of patients surviving when it occurs outside the hospital.

He founded an advocacy and support group called 4 Healthy Hearts in 2010 to promote life balance as a way to keep the heart healthy and works to raise awareness about the importance of CPR/AED training. He has worked with the American Heart Association in its efforts to make CPR training part of high school graduation requirements.

“I tell people that this is my second life and I have to be aware of everything I do for my health,” Jose said. “I have to take it seriously because I may not have another chance.”

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Photos courtesy of Jose Lepervanche

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Do you know a “Story from the Heart” we should tell?

Send an email to stories@heart.org that’s as brief or as detailed as you’d like.

Previous “Stories from the Heart” include:

A heart attack at 37 sent marathon runner down a new path

‘He didn’t want to look at our daughter and tell her I’m not coming home’

Lifting a 3,500-pound car was only the start to saving her dad’s life; knowing CPR made a difference, too

  • Nathan P. Thomas,Sr.

    I agree, eating healthier and exercising is good for you – thanks AHA for everything you do.

  • Nathan P. Thomas,Sr.

    Listen to your body, it will tell if something is wrong (most people don’t listen or pay attention to the signs)