On a business trip to Arkansas, an unhealthy lifestyle caught up with Dan Obergfell. It nearly cost him the walk of a lifetime. Thanks to the heart team at Wake Forest Baptist Health, his daughter had her father by her side on the biggest day of her life.

Obergfell, a resident of Clemmons and an apparel company executive, fell ill while traveling on business in April. He couldn’t catch his breath, carry his backpack or even lift his jacket.

“With every little movement, I lost my breath,” he says.

His colleagues rushed him to a local hospital, where emergency room staff determined he was in hypertensive crisis with congestive heart failure. They stabilized him but knew he needed quadruple bypass surgery to save his life.

An Unhealthy Toll

He says a lifetime of unhealthy choices had taken their toll. A family history of heart disease didn’t help—two of his brothers died in middle age from heart-related problems.

“I wasn’t eating correctly, still smoking despite several attempts to quit over the years and rarely exercising,” he says. “I was on blood pressure medication, but when it ran out, I didn’t make it a priority to see my doctor and get it refilled.”

It added up to a life-threatening episode far from home.

“I almost didn’t make it out of Arkansas,” he says. “I wasn’t going to have surgery there though. I wanted to get back and be treated at home.”

He and his wife Vicki flew back to Winston-Salem on a Thursday night. On Friday, they met David Zhao, MD, chief of cardiovascular medicine and executive director of Wake Forest Baptist’s Heart and Vascular Center. The following Monday, a team led by Zhao and Ted Kincaid, MD, chair and professor of cardiothoracic surgery, performed his open-heart surgery.

‘The Best Care Possible’

The April 16 surgery date loomed large: His daughter Sarah’s wedding was on May 5.

“It was a short window—18 days to get back,” he says. “The wedding gave me a goal. I needed to honor my commitment to my daughter.”

The surgery was a success, and Obergfell began working with Kathy Wooten, RN, and the cardio rehab team at WFBH-Davie Medical Center. After 20 years of smoking, he finally quit, and he relearned how to eat a proper diet.

“All of the nurses were absolutely off-the-chart wonderful,” says Obergfell, who has lost 40 pounds. “They made me feel like I wanted to go to rehab. I’ve gotten the best care possible.”

Ready for the Big Day and Beyond

When Sarah’s big day arrived, Obergfell was ready.

“I was able to do what I promised my daughter I would do—I walked her down the aisle,” he says. He even danced with her at the reception.

Since then, he’s completed a 5K Heart Walk in Charlotte in September. On the six-month anniversary of his surgery, he finished a four-mile route at the Winston-Salem Heart and Stroke Walk, walking with his family as part of the Wake Forest Baptist Health team. For his efforts, he’s been nominated for an American Heart Association Lifestyle Change Award.

“I haven’t reached all of my goals yet, but I’m certainly working on it,” he says. “I don’t know if I’m the perfect poster boy for an award, but I have changed my lifestyle. If I can help someone else make that change, I’m glad to do it.”

From major heart surgery through cardio rehab, WFBH can transform your heart, your health and your life.