Doug Krampel knows his body. So 12 years ago, when he experienced an unusual chest pain while working out, the avid athlete immediately went to his doctor. Although initial testing showed everything was ok, a catheterization revealed he had a 95 percent blockage in one of his main arteries.
A diagnosis that made life difficult–and scary
At 48-years-old, Doug was diagnosed with premature coronary artery disease. He had a stent placed in his artery, but it didn’t fix the problem. “For about six months, almost every other week, I was back at my local hospital having stents put in,” he says. “I had about six stents put in in a short period of time.”
Doug’s blood work at the time also revealed that he had very low HDL cholesterol (the good kind) and very high LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). His blood work coupled with the repeated catheterizations and a family history of heart disease prompted a discussion with his cardiologist about looking for advanced care. “I was scared to death, because I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go. It was really, for me, a matter of just being sick and tired of not getting a handle on it. I was not able to live my life. I was literally afraid 24 hours a day.”
His doctor suggested he make an appointment with Dr. Daniel Rader at the University of Pennsylvania, a specialist in lipid diseases. And that’s why I wound up at Penn. “I’m not the type of person who is willing to settle for just the right job. I needed to get to the bottom of what the problem was.”
A new hope, a new treatment
It didn’t take long for Dr. Rader to discover that Doug not only had high LDL cholesterol, but a condition known as Lipoprotein(a), or LP(a), elevation, as well. In short, the elevation of LP(a) was contributing to plaque formation in his arteries, a condition that could be treated, Dr. Rader explained, by LDL apheresis, a process that removes blood through one arm, cleaning it of the bad cholesterol, and then returns it to the body through the other arm.
“They were literally filtering the fat out of my blood, amazing,” Doug states. Apheresis is not something that can be done at any hospital—there are only a few labs in the country, with Penn Medicine being the only center in the region offering this unique treatment. The process takes three to four hours and is done every other week—a serious time commitment given Doug lived in Flemington, N.J., and would have to commute almost 2 hours to and from Penn, “Although it is a long trip, it was definitely worth the while to get the best care that I could at Penn.”
For six years, Doug made the trek to Penn for apheresis—which, between the commute and the exhaustion after the procedure, wasn’t always easy. But he says the staff at Penn’s apheresis lab created a welcoming environment for him, and they soon became like a second family. “I think that’s so important as far as cardiovascular care,” he explains. “You feel like you’re not just a number, but somebody they care about.”
Beating the odds, a better life
What also helped were the positive results he saw. After years of almost annual procedures at his local community hospital, Doug now had gone 5 years without additional stents, thanks to his new treatment regimen with Penn. His chest pains stopped and his cholesterol dropped. Doug was even able to reduce his treatments from twice a month to once a month.
Newly retired, he has gained a new lease on life, approaching each day free from the anxiety that he might suffer a major and life-threatening cardiac event. Still receiving treatment at Penn, Doug says, “I know this sounds strange, but I actually look forward to my monthly visit because I know I’m going back to Penn to see friends,” he explains. “I have one or two nurses who take care of me routinely, and the department chairs and staff are always stopping by to check in on me to see how I’m doing. It’s been an absolutely phenomenal experience.”
“I just celebrated my 60th birthday and looking forward to many, many more years ahead,” he says. “Today, I can actually sit here and say, this treatment at Penn, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Watch a video to hear Doug tell his amazing story.