Man shoveling snow on neighborhood street (photo by iStock)
Ohio Life | Live Well Ohio

Live Well Jan./Feb. 2024

How to prevent common hazards in and around the home and cold weather arrives. Plus, Dublin resident Greg Ruf shares his work to bring awareness to a lesser-known heart condition. 

Prepare for Winter
An emergency room doctor shares how to prevent common, cold-weather home hazards that can lead to a need for urgent care.

The first major freeze or snowstorm of the season often catches people by surprise, despite the extreme weather warnings. Emergency rooms tend to fill up with cases related to slips and other injuries, says Dr. Brian Kaminski, an emergency room physician and vice president of medical affairs at ProMedica in Toledo. We asked him to share winter-safety advice for some common, cold-weather risks. 

Do a Heat Check. Look at the insulation surrounding your doors and windows, which are common places that heat can escape a home during the winter, and make any necessary repairs. “That way, if you lose power, the heat will stay in the house,” Kaminski says.

Protect Against Carbon Monoxide. Install a carbon monoxide alarm and be sure to get your furnace inspected annually. Carbon monoxide exposure can feel like the flu, Kaminski says, and symptoms include fatigue, headache and difficulty breathing. 

Look Beneath the Surface. What looks like fluffy white powder can conceal treacherous ground. Before you dive into shoveling, let someone know you’ll be outdoors. “We see people who end up outside for prolonged periods of time [get] frostbite or cold-related injuries because they fell,” Kaminski says. 

Stock Essential Supplies. Keep a first-aid kit on hand, along with enough food or water to last several days in case of a storm. “Also think about your vehicle,” Kaminski says. Stow a blanket, roadside assistance kit, food, water and warm clothing in case you get stranded.

Greg Ruf, co-founder of the DCM Foundation (photo courtesy of Greg Ruf)
Matters of the Heart
Commonly misdiagnosed and often overlooked, dilated cardiomyopathy can be a silent killer. Greg Ruf of Dublin hopes to help change that. 

In 1982, Greg Ruf was a senior in high school and he can still recall the pounding in his chest while running track.

“My heart would take off racing,” he says.

A required physical in 2003 brought concerns, which the Dublin resident was not previously aware of, to light.

“I went to a cardiologist, and they found arrhythmia and a low ejection fraction, meaning your heart does not squeeze and pump blood very well,” he says, adding that nothing was done to correct it because he appeared healthy.  

A decade later, an allergist’s stethoscope picked up an erratic heartbeat and a pulse of 32. Eventually, an ECG resulted in a diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

“It’s very underdiagnosed, no one really knows about it, and it kills more people than breast cancer each year,” says Ruf, co-founder of the DCM Foundation, the first nonprofit organization in the world dedicated to education, research and advocacy for patients and families dealing with the issue.

DCM is a condition when the heart’s main pumping chamber is enlarged. As the chamber grows bigger, the muscular wall stretches, becoming thinner and weaker. This affects the heart’s ability to pump enough blood to the rest of the body. More than half of diagnosed DCM cases are caused by heart muscle damage from heart attacks or coronary artery disease. A large percentage are caused by genetic factors.

“During the last 20 years, familial DCM genetic studies have identified mutations in almost 40 genes,” Ruf says.

At the time of his diagnosis, his left ventricle was pumping at about half of its capacity. In 2021, Ruf received a successful heart transplant.

Following recovery, Ruf dedicated his career to the DCM Foundation, which he started in 2018 with Dr. Ray Hershberger, a professor of medicine, a heart failure and transplant cardiologist, and a clinical and laboratory scientist at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. The foundation has three pillars: information and education, patient and family support and understanding the need for genetic testing.   

“If you are experiencing any symptoms where you think there is something wrong with your heart, go to a cardiologist. If you have a family member diagnosed with DCM, ask about genetic testing,” Ruf says. “A simple doctor’s visit and tests can save lives.” 

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