Updated at 3:56 p.m.
“Wouldn’t it be fun to get to retirement and be able to say you never missed a day of work?” said President Mauri Ditzler.
Albion College’s President Mauri Ditzler has never missed a day of work for health reasons. The flu is a common illness but, Ditzler claims that “it was always on the weekends.” What Ditzler came to slowly observe over this past winter, however, will interrupt his perfect work attendance for the next month.
As of Tuesday, April 3, President Ditzler will be out on a health leave for the next month. Within the past two weeks, it was made certain by his cardiologist that he should undergo a heart bypass surgery.
The surgery will take place at Borgess Heart Center in Kalamazoo on Wednesday, April 4. Borgess is affiliated with Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall, which was recommended to Ditzler through his personal doctor located here in Albion.
“I am happy and confident to be going there,” Ditzler said. The surgeon told him that he’ll be able to be back up and at it in about a month, so he is counting on being able to return to work in May.
Ditzler commented on how he felt in good health this past year. Over the winter, symptoms such as shortness of breath and overexertion caught his attention. He began to notice that walking to events on campus was not as easy and enjoyable as it once was.
Ditzler goes on to describe how walking home from events would leave him out of breath. Along the way home, he would want to stop and catch his breath; yet with the low temperatures and snowy weather, he found it odd to even consider stopping in the cold to catch his breath. The issues made evident in cold weather were not the only hints of an ailing heart.
“I live next to campus and walk to a lot of events, and I always find that fun, but this winter I thought, ‘Well maybe I ought to drive to the basketball game,’” said Ditzler. “Then I thought, ‘What a silly thing, I only live three blocks from Kresge Gym.”’
Ditzler and his wife, Judi, own a farm in Southern Indiana that requires a lot of labor. Their farm has apple and peach trees along with strawberry patches. The fact that he couldn’t do as much farm work as he used to without needing a break added to the list of hints toward health concerns.
These subtle hints of the heart needing a “tune-up” are often caused by a blocked or damaged artery. The arteries surrounding the heart are the source of oxygenated blood that flows into the heart. When too much plaque builds upon an artery’s wall, there is less blood flow. Not enough blood movement means that the heart would have to work harder to operate, leading to muscle exhaustion and a failing heart.
Due to an insufficient artery, the heart will have a hard time taking in the flow of blood. A bypass heart surgery is a process that takes a healthy artery from somewhere else in the body to restore the normal blood flow to the heart, replacing the damaged one. These healthy blood vessels can be taken from an internal mammary artery, located inside the ribs, a saphenous vein in the leg, or a radial artery on the wrist. This surgery takes the new, healthy artery and attaches it to the heart and then to a point on the old artery that is located before the blockage, enabling the blood to bypass the blockage.
The recovery time for this type of surgery is normally six to 12 weeks; however, Ditzler is hopeful when it comes to the prediction of the recovery time being only a month.
After the surgery, Ditzler will be staying in the President’s House in Albion to rehabilitate. Although you might see him walking about campus and making appearances at a few of the spring sporting events, he will be not be working and be held back from over-exerting himself.
Judi Ditzler will be traveling from her Indiana farm to Albion to look after Ditzler. Ditzler said it may be the first full month in which she will be away from the farm since they moved here about four years ago.
With the rest of his family spread across the U.S., Ditzler hopes they stay home so that the worry of travel isn’t on his mind. He said as a parent, there is always worry and preparations when it comes to travel. He has been telling his children and grandchildren to stay behind for school and events, and that his wife and sister, who will be in the area, will keep them updated.
Although Ditzler spoke of wanting to keep his medical prognosis quiet as long as possible, he knew there was no need for secrets since he lives in a small, caring town like Albion.
“There hasn’t been a day that going to work isn’t fun,” Ditzler states. “There are so many fun things that happen in the spring. But if it opens up another four or five years of spring then it’s worth it.”
Although he will be missing out on some of the major spring events, he still plans to make it to graduation and the baccalaureate.
This graduating class is special to President Ditzler — they both began their time here at Albion together four years ago. Ditzler’s first events as President of Albion College was attending several of the summer orientation days and getting to know the students. Ditzler has a goal of seeing them finish out their time at Albion, which makes him that much more motivated to recover in time for this year’s graduation on May 5.
Featured image via Pleiad archives. Drawings created by Jessica Behrman.