POSTED: Thursday, November 15, 2012 - 11:42pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - 5:57pm
EL PASO — For more than 17 years, Chuck Debroder never called in sick.
He was one never to let a cold, cough, or sinus infection to keep him from delivering your weather.
"Just like any cold or flu I had fought off all my life, I thought I cuold get through this," he said.
But a week, turned into a month, which then turned into five months.
And still, Chuck was fighting it off.
"I went to the corner drug store, like all of us do, and we get the throat spray, and the cough medicine, all the cold and flu medicine, and we try it all," he said.
But it still wouldn't go away.
Chuck's wife, Rosario Zaragoza, was obviously worried.
"I insisted, 'You need medical attention.' He was concerned about the economical issue, I said, 'Don't worry about that part, your health is first."
"I didn't take care of it. I waited five months."
That's when he felt something just wasn't right.
"When I gained 70-plus pounds in water weight... and my shoe size went up three sizes in one week, I knew this was nothing to play around with. this was pretty serious."
Rosario wouldn't wait any longer.
"He didn't listen to me. So I had to take him on my own."
They saw doctors in Juarez who treated his sinus infection, but they found something so serious... that doctors told Chuck he needed to get open heart surgery right away.
"How much time we have to do the surgery?" Rosario asked the doctor.
What he said, shocked them both.
"I cannot say sincerely. Maybe one day, maybe one week. I don't know, maybe a few hours."
Rosario rushed Chuck back to El Paso, to Sierra Medical Center's emergency room.
That's where he met cardiologist Dr. Abraham Gonzalez.
"He was in a condition called congestive heart failure because the heart was not pumping well. "
He had a mitral valve prolapse.
That's when the valve doesn't close completely.
It's a condition that Gonzalez says affects 20 to 25 percent of people and isn't necessarily serious.
But in rare cases, like Chuck's, something can go horribly wrong.
Cords in his mitral valve had torn, causing blood to leak out, his heart to overwork, and his body to retain wastewater.
"It's very serious. A patient can die. And certainly in a patient as young as he was... it makes you take notice immediately," said Gonalez.
"My parents were trying to figure out when to come down to be with me. And (Gonzalez) grabbed the phone and said, 'If you are not here by this time next week, your son won't be around.' And so that's when I knew it was really serious," said Chuck.
"It's hard when you listen that (your) loved one is not going to make it if he doesn't receive the proper care," said Rosario. "But you know in your heart when something bad is going to happen, so I was tranquil in that aspect. I was for sure that it wasn't Charles' time to go. And I left everything in God's hands."
"It's a shock at first, but you can't stress out. You just have to go through the actions, and I did. I went through two operations," said Chuck.
His cardiothoracic surgeon, was Dr. Ian Lyn.
He's one of only a handful in town.
He says while Chuck's condition was dire, the fix was easy.
"Fortunately though, by the appearance of the echo, it looked as if it was a repairable valve," Lyn said.
"So what I did was cut out the bad part of the leaflet in the back, just removed it, and I could use the size of that leaflet which were still good, and reconstruct those into one single valve leaflet."
Just an hour and a half after surgery, Chuck's mitro valve was back to closing the way it should.
A week after his operations, and Chuck was back home.
But it took several weeks of recovery before he finally started to feel like himself again.
So how could this have gone from just a simple infection to a life-threatening condition?
Gonzalez believes Chuck's valve was already in trouble before that sinus infection showed up.
"Generally what happens is when people start to experience a buildup of fluid in their lungs, they get congested, and their resistance to colds or pneumonias significantly decreases."
The buildup of water also masked a pain Chuck should have felt.
"That's why I didn't get things checked out sooner too, I thought I was eating to much, or the infection was making me gain weight," he said.
Chuck's face-to-face meeting with his mortality has changed his life.
"I appreciate everything about my life, I'm more grateful," he said.
He says he had to face his own death to realize an important lesson about life.
"I would say if you have anything serious, a pain, a sinus infection, anything with your body more than three weeks, I would go see a professional."
"I know it's kind of hard economically sometimes, time-wise with your work, but your health is number 1."
"We think we're invincible, we think, 'Oh, nothing's going to happen like that to us,' but it can, and it did to me. And so, I don't want it to happen to anybody else."