Emergency treatment made him a better emergency responder

Jeremy Vardaman has spent his career focusing on emergency response. But when he needed attention for his own health emergency, he saw a different side of patient care.

In high school Jeremy Vardaman ran cross country and played baseball. After high school he became an EMT. His goal was to pursue a career as a firefighter – a physically demanding job.

He grew up watching his dad, Jed Vardaman work as a volunteer firefighter. His brother, Jarrett also became a firefighter.

After working with several EMS services, Jeremy Vardaman landed his dream job with the Zionsville Fire Department. He had been at the job for two years – working long shifts responding to alarms, putting out flames, performing underwater rescues, and coming to the aid of accident victims. It was a job he loved.

“The stress of the job didn’t affect me. It’s what I love to do,” said Vardaman, 30. But on June 3, 2018, Vardaman had just finished a basketball game with fellow fire fighters and completed a routine workout when he began to feel dizzy.  He had completed a health physical just a month earlier and was “perfectly healthy,” said Vardaman. But His heart was racing on this night.

“I went out to the medic truck and hooked myself to a heart monitor,” said Vardaman. His heart was beating at 234 beats a minute. A normal heart rate for adults 18 and older is between 60-100 beats a minute. He was rushed to ER and within weeks was connected to IU Health for genetic testing. That testing determined that Vardaman had a genetic mutation in his heart. Commonly known as Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) the condition is a disease of the heart muscle. Left untreated, the disease can result in death.

February is American Heart Month – a time to promote awareness of heart disease and prevention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest monitoring cholesterol – a leading cause of heart disease.

For Vardaman, who thought he was the picture of health, his diagnosis came as a surprise.

“ARVC is one of the leading causes of athletic deaths,” said Vardaman. Caught early, the treatment involves controlling the heart rate through medication or heart ablation.  Vardaman was referred to IU Health cardiologist Dr. John Miller and was told, “he’s nationally known for his expert treatment in difficult heart ablations.” The week before Thanksgiving Vardaman underwent a complex six-hour procedure to stabilize his heart rate.

“The minute I met Dr. Miller I knew I was in good hands. He was so nice along with the anesthesiologist, nurses, and entire staff. They were so caring and professional,” said Vardaman. The experience taught him something else too: “I’m used to giving patients care, but this time I was the one who needed the care,” said Vardaman. “It made me see things from a different way – from the other side.”

Although there is no history of heart disease in Vardaman’s family ARVC is typically inherited in an autosomal dominate way. After Vardaman’s diagnosis, his mother also learned that she has the genetic mutation. “The doctors have said the more athletic you are the more the chances the condition flares up,” said Vardaman. “I consider myself lucky that we caught it in time.”

The ablation helped regulate his heart rate, but doctors have suggested that Vardaman refrain from strenuous sports and athletics. He recently made a decision to pursue his career as an EMT and has been hired by IU Health LifeLine. He is also enrolled in the Paramedic Program through IUPUI set to begin in August 2019. 

“I look forward to expanding my skills and education to better serve patients I come into contact with,” said Vardaman. “I have always thought LifeLine is professional and family-oriented. I think now I bring something new to my passion for patient care. I know what it’s like to meet someone on one of the worst days of their lives and to make the outcomes better.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.