Building Hope and Health
As a comedian, Carl Strong's work frequently took him on the road as he toured with celebrities such as Gladys Knight and the Pips and performed on cruise ships. For the past five years, however, he has been on a different kind of journey—a journey back to health. Carl, now 57, continued his career even as congestive heart failure began to slow him down and he began working with cardiologist Dr. Mamoun Al-Nouri (now retired) at Mercy Medical Center. "I felt a bond with him. I felt he cared," Carl said.
Between 2010 and 2012, he underwent a number of cardiac procedures, but nothing helped for long. Still, Carl was not convinced that he was "bad enough" for drastic measures. He credits LaDonna Henslee, Specialty Nurse Practitioner in Mercy's Cardiology Department, with making him see the light. "You have a general here. She saved my life. She changed my whole scope of thinking. You have to love something to get angry like that. She had to get my attention. At the time I thought 'who does this woman think she is?' But, I was wrong. She was so right." Carl hadn't been doing what he needed to do, but LaDonna got through to him. "As a patient, you have to work on your attitude. The difference is taking your meds. The difference is following orders. You've got to call on God."
Carl jokes that two phrases he hates to hear from doctors are "You're going to feel a little poke," and "I'm afraid..." as in "I'm afraid you're going to have a heart transplant." "You have to trust people. I trusted LaDonna," Carl said. It was LaDonna who eventually convinced him that he needed a heart transplant. With his heart beating at less than 15 percent of capacity, Carl had to wear a wear a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) to help his own heart pump while he waited for a new one. He also had to do cardiac rehab at Mercy. "No one is enthusiastic about getting on a treadmill with an LVAD," he acknowledged, but also has praise for the staff there. "They were very professional. They knew their jobs and treated everyone with respect and courtesy. They make you feel like a family."
Throughout his many hospitalizations Carl found the care from the Mercy doctors and nurses outstanding, but also called out the assistants who provided the hands-on daily care. "The caregivers really care. The compassion here was outstanding. You feel hopeless and these people seem to have a way of comforting you. They do it with a temperament of love. Mercy should change its name to Hope Mercy Medical Center," Carl said.
On March 1, 2013 Carl underwent transplant surgery at St. Luke's in Milwaukee. When he was released, he returned to Oshkosh and to Mercy for follow-up care and more cardiac rehab. "One day you look up and you find that you can do things again. You get the quality of your life back—normalcy," he said. Now, a year past surgery, Carl is rebuilding is life and his career. He has refreshed his act with a new spiritual emphasis. "I became more religious, more spiritual. You have a choice to enjoy and embrace life or be negative."