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A Heart on the Mend

Posted on September 9, 2021 in Cardiology

Michael Ensor as a blacksmith
Michael Ensor is a well-known blacksmith who nearly lost his life to congestive heart failure and other medical complications.

Being a blacksmith is hard work, but one of its advantages is working with heat on bitterly cold days. Michael Ensor wasn’t particularly nervous on that 20-degree February day. The video demonstration Ensor was carrying out at The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center in Townsend would be easy for an experienced blacksmith.

So why was he having symptoms of an anxiety attack? He couldn’t breathe.  

The surprising truth was revealed later at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. Ensor was in congestive heart failure.

A Failing Heart

“Everybody says ‘you’re so lucky,’ but no, I’m privileged,” Michael Ensor says. “I got my life back and had the people around me who made a difference.”

Heart disease can come with a wide array of symptoms that are easy to dismiss. When Ensor had trouble breathing, it was because his heart couldn’t pump out enough blood from his lungs, putting pressure on his heart and pushing fluid into his lungs’ air sacs.

He also had a bloated stomach which came from fluid that had reached his abdomen. Recent chest pain that had felt like indigestion was the effect of reduced blood flow to his heart.

Ensor with nurses Jennifer Lamb and Chelsea Benson
During a recent visit to Fort Sanders Cardiopulmonary Rehab, Michael Ensor was reunited with Jennifer Lamb (left) and Chelsea Benson (right), two of the ICU nurses who cared for him.

Ensor underwent a five-bypass surgery, was placed on a ventilator, came off the ventilator, then was reintubated and had a tracheostomy. He also went through pneumonia and infections.

After nearly two months, the turnaround came. Ensor’s condition began to improve. Jennifer Lamb and Chelsea Benson were among the many nurses who offered medical care and attentive compassion 24 hours a day, even washing his hair as he lay in the bed.

“His spirit was just so great,” Lamb says. “He would see a familiar face and he would smile. He couldn’t say anything but you could tell he was happy.”

“You can’t keep him down,” Benson says. “He fought the whole way.”

Stronger Every Day

Michael Ensor on his motorcycle
After time spent at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center and Fort Sanders Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, Michael Ensor is back on his feet and even back on his motorcycle.

After being discharged from the hospital, Ensor was admitted to Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center for a while and was then released to go home and begin a series of appointments for cardiopulmonary rehabilitation. Exercises strengthened his heart and built his endurance.

A return to blacksmithing isn’t an option yet because of the intense heat Ensor would have to be exposed to, but he’s back on his motorcycle and on the road. Little by little, life is getting back to normal. It’s something he doesn’t take for granted.

“It makes you thankful every day,” Ensor says. “To know where I was at, what I couldn’t do, and what I can do now – I’m very, very thankful.”

To learn more about cardiac services at Fort Sanders Regional, visit FSRegional.com/Cardiology.