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Pullman principal back on job after heart attack

When Pullman Elementary School students were greeted by their principal on the first day of school, most had no idea he spent his summer recovering from a heart attack.

Rodney DeSautel, 63, has fully recovered and is back on the job.

DeSautel's attack hit on June 5, shortly after school let out for the summer.

While walking into the District 833 Service Center with Cottage Grove Elementary School Principal Carl Aegler to interview teachers to fill vacancies in their buildings, DeSautel knew he felt strange.

"Just before the first interview, my chest felt funny and I had some pain," he said. "I knew it was not just gas but it subsided."

About 11:30 a.m. he "grabbed a sandwich" and headed back to his office at Pullman Elementary School. "By then I had classic symptoms," he said. "I knew what it felt like. I have pains down my left arm and into my upper back. I knew it was angina pain."

He called his wife, Barb, a speech therapist, drove himself to Woodwinds Hospital in Woodbury. "I got yelled at for that by the nurses," he said.

A blood test contained an enzyme present in patients who have had a recent heart episode. He was sent to St. Joseph's by ambulance.

During the surgical procedure, doctors found the blockage behind the heart in an area that is difficult to see on x-rays, DeSautel said.

Doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital discovered one of his arteries was 90 percent blocked. They cleared the blockage and one stint was installed to hold the artery open.

Patients with stint surgery normally have a reasonably short recovery but DeSautel said his was prolonged by bad headaches, a side effect from a medication.

DeSautel is no stranger to heart problems. He had open-heart surgery at age 35.

"It was unusual for a person my age," he said. "I was a jogger and was in pretty good shape. People that age do not survive a heart attack."

In 1992, there were more blockages and another open-heart surgery for two new bypasses.

"My chest was looking like a interstate connector," he said.

His heart problems are genetic. Both parents died of heart attacks but were 79 and 80 when they died.

"I had distant uncles who died in their 30s," he said. "No one mentioned that."

For the past two years, in spite of passing his yearly heart stress tests with flying colors, he felt something was different. It was intuition, not something he could specifically identify.

He was given tests, during which dye was injected into his arteries and moving X-rays taken of the blood flow. Doctors did not find a problem.

Patients with heart blockages often have symptoms that mimic indigestion. DeSautel said any indigestion brings back heart attack reminders.

DeSautel said he watches his weight and takes cholesterol-lowering medication that keeps it at 150. "I watch what I eat, but you've got to live," he said.

He plans to stay at his job through the 2007-08 school year and then retire.

He'll continue working at some job, such as teaching college students.

I think I'm doing fine," DeSautel said. "I can't move as good as I used to, but I never could."

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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