SIDNEY — Imagine passing out after a day’s work at 36 years old and having to be rushed to the hospital. That is the incident that started Jason Overbey on a trek to save his life. The first step was to identify what they were dealing with.
“I spent 10 days in the hospital. There were several tests run but no real answers. I have a wonderful family doctor. He really cared and listen to me. He sent me to all the right places and made all the right referrals; however, I spent the next two years going to doctors trying to find answers only to be misdiagnosed. I was experiencing extreme fatigue with any form of exercise. I often found myself out of breath with no explanation. I would also pass out without warning. I knew there was something very wrong with me. However, on the outside I looked completely normal,” said Overbey.
Eventually being seen by a cardiologist at OSU Medical Center in Columbus, Overbey was given the diagnoses of Neurocardiac Syncope, tachycardia, narcolepsy, and high blood pressure. He began medications that were not helping him, and his quality of life continued to be affected. He continued this road for six years.
“In February of this year I went with my family to Mad River Mountain. I took a tube and started pulling it. Within minutes it felt like I was pulling a ton of bricks. I collapsed in the snow. My wife, son, and niece rushed to my side. I was completely exhausted, unable to breathe, and honestly, I thought I was dying. I remember telling my family how much I loved them. My wife wanted to call the squad, but I refused. A few days later I collapsed again in my living room. My wife made me go to the emergency department,” remembers Overbey.
After being transferred from Wilson Health to Lima Memorial Hospital, Overbey was admitted and underwent more testing. The cardiologist felt that a right heart catheterization was needed, and it brought more difficult news to relate to Overbey and his wife, Monica.
“I will never forget the doctor came into the recovery room and told me and my wife that my heart pressures in the right side of my heart were dangerously high and I was very sick and was having severe congestive heart failure. He was not sure if I was going to live.” said Overbey.
”He said they needed to get me to a more equipped hospital that specializes in pulmonary hypertension. Of course, all of this information was very overwhelming and coming to us very quickly. It was a lot to process in such a short moment in time. Pulmonary hypertension was not a term that we were at all familiar with but one that we would come to understand in the days to come. Lima Memorial transported me to The Ohio State University Medical Center,” said Overbey.
Unsure of the type of pulmonary hypertension was Overbey was afflicted with, more tests were ordered at OSU. These tests brought more difficult news but also the first rays of hope.
“Within the first few hours of being at OSU we were told I had to have a pump put in my stomach to start a lifelong medication, and they wanted to start it immediately. My wife and I asked for a few minutes to talk alone. We prayed together and asked God what we were to do. It was so much to process, and it was all happening so quickly. After praying and asking some dear friends to pray, we felt we needed to wait.
“So, I told the doctor ‘no.’ The test that was ordered was called a VQ test. It was found that I had chronic, multiple, blood clots in both of my lungs, and the doctor was able to determine that this was caused by a splenectomy I had as a child. He explained to me that I had a disease called Chronic Thromboembolic Pulmonary Hypertension (CTEPH). He told me that he honestly could not believe that I was still alive and at the very longest I had six months to live in my current condition,” remembered Overbey.
Overbey was given three options. He could continue in his current condition and die in six months. He could go on medications and possibly live a little longer. He could undergo a surgery called a pulmonary thromboendarterectomy (PTE). PTE is the only cure for CTEPH. It is a rigorous procedure and is only preformed in a few hospitals in the United States.
“PTE is an 8- to 10-hour procedure. He told me that the surgery was very high risk but the only cure. I asked him what he would do if it were him. He told me that I was young, I have two older daughters, and an 8-year-old son that still needed to be raised, and he thought I should have the PTE surgery. After talking with my wife, it was decided that I would have the PTE surgery. I was eventually discharged from OSU and had to have all my medications changed.
“In fact, the medications that I was on for the first diagnosis was harming me not helping me. I was sent home with a referral to UC San Diego Health and was told I had to wait for the phone call to be accepted, which could take six months to a year, but he would push for a quicker response because I didn’t have that kind of time,” said Overbey.
It was three months later when Overbey and his wife were contacted with the news that he had been accepted for testing for the surgery. Their insurance would pay for the testing but not for traveling to San Diego, food, lodging and miscellaneous expenses involved with the extended stay.
“I had the weekend to spend with my wife and son and enjoy ourselves before the big surgery. On Friday afternoon we were at the ocean and the doctor from UC San Diego Health, that we had just met with the day prior, called me on my cell phone. He told me that the surgeons had reviewed all my tests, and they had determined that I was not a candidate for the PTE surgery. The very surgeons who are the Best of the Best in the world for CTEPH and PTE surgery said I would not survive the surgery and would be left lying on the table.
“Once again, another rush of emotion and sadness overwhelmed me and my wife. Just like that the surgery was off. I shared the information with family and friends back home and it was as if our entire support system felt the same sadness we felt. They were carrying our burden with them as well. In fact, our church organized a prayer vigil for me,” recounted Overbey
A monthlong stay in San Diego was required for Overbey to begin the only FDA approved medications to treat CTEPH. Overbey has become known among family and friends for the bandanas he is fond of wearing. When feeling low during his time away from home, he would get on Facebook and see picture after picture of people wearing bandanas to show their love and support.
After beginning the medication regimen, Overbey was told he was a candidate for a Balloon Pulmonary Angioplasty (BPA). BPA is a new procedure that targets the narrowing and has been shown to lower the blood pressure in the lung arteries, improve breathing and increase exercise tolerance in carefully selected patients.
BPA consists of a tube being inserted into the neck or the groin to thread a wire to the affected areas. Once there, a balloon is inflated to help move the blockage aside and return circulation to that area.
BPA usually involves up to six treatment sessions, each lasting up to two hours, spaced four to six weeks apart. The procedure is performed in this way to minimize the risk of procedure-related side effects to the kidneys from the contrast medium used and to the lung from injury occurring from restoring the blood flow. BPA is performed under a light sedation and local anesthetic.
“I have already had my first trip back to San Diego and had a successful first and second session of BPA. I am scheduled to return to San Diego, California the last week in January and the first week of February, for sessions three and four,” reported Overbey.
Before his struggles with CTEPH, Overbey was a very active man, working for a cable company, hunting and fishing, and engaging in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). His life has changed drastically, requiring him to wear oxygen with activities that are even minimally exerting.
“I have three children. Brianna who Is 23, Moiryah 21, and my son Micah who is 8. I am a very private person and this disease has played havoc in all areas of my life. The reason I agreed to do the article about my disease is to bring awareness. I went eight years with the wrong diagnosis and with other people having a judgement of me that was false. People thought I was lazy and did not believe how sick I really was. As I have been through this journey I have learned that majority of the people go misdiagnosed and the real reason for their death isn’t found until autopsy,” said Overbey.
The Overbey family has had several fundraisers held for them and a friend set up a gofundme account; however, they are still short of the estimated $4,000 required for the next trip to San Diego. After that, there is one, possibly two, more trips needed. Anyone who feels led to contribute can do so at https://www.gofundme.com/please-help-get-jason-to-california.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.