CEDAR — Herb Sudemann has been taking care of his community for 16 years. Now that community is taking care of him.
Sudemann, 51, is a firefighter EMT for Cedar Area Fire and Rescue. He has been off work since June, when he was deemed a cardiac risk because of a heart murmur.
The murmur was a sign of something serious, and Sudemann is now recovering from a heart valve replacement and single bypass surgery.
He won’t go back to work until the end of November, and only then if he passes a physical required by his job.
Sudemann, who is the Cedar department’s longest-serving firefighter, has used up all of his vacation and personal time and is now on long-term disability and collecting 60 percent of his paycheck.
Friends and community members are donating to a GoFundMe account set up for Sudemann. As of Wednesday about $4,600 had been donated.
“Without this GoFundMe I would probably lose my house,” Sudemann said.
“The outpouring support of the community has just been humbling,” said his wife, Tanja Sudemann, who works at Buntings Cedar Market.
The murmur was something that was picked up every year at his annual work physical, but it had gotten steadily worse — so much so that this year Sudemann failed his physical.
Sudemann said he was pretty angry when he was told failing the physical meant he couldn’t work. He went into panic mode, worrying about how he would pay his bills.
“The way I feel now, it was a lifesaving thing that they did,” he said. “And now I’m thankful.”
So is Tanja.
“He would have dropped dead,” she said. “We wouldn’t have had any idea.”
Sudemann said for about the past year he noticed he was easily winded, tired and at times lethargic.
“I couldn’t figure out what was going on,” he said.
Sudemann was sent to a cardiologist and put through a battery of tests, including an echocardiogram. He was supposed to also have a stress test, which monitors the heart’s response to exercise.
“The lady said, ‘We’re not putting you on the treadmill,’” Sudemann said. “It was at that time that I knew something was wrong.”
Another test had him swallowing a tiny camera to produce images of the heart and its arteries from inside the esophagus, which is very close to the upper chambers of the heart. The images showed he had aortic stenosis, with a 95 percent blockage, as well as a heart valve that was in very bad condition.
Doctors told Sudemann not to do anything strenuous.
“They said I could go for a walk, but it freaked me out too much,” he said.
His surgery was done on Aug. 22, when they used a vein from his leg to bypass the blocked cardiac artery. He also got a mechanical heart valve to replace his damaged one.
The valve is about the size of a quarter and opens and closes with every beat of Sudemann’s heart. He could have opted for a natural valve made of animal or human donor tissue, but it would have only a 10-year life span.
“So in 10 or 11 years we’d be doing this all over again,” Tanja said.
Sudemann started as a volunteer firefighter as a way to give back, he said. He was hired on part time and took first responder and EMT courses. He has been full time for the last 11 years.
Before then he had worked all kinds of jobs, but was looking for something meaningful.
Sudemann said he sometimes feels like he works a thankless job. That feeling has changed over the last few months.
“Through this I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people,” he said. “Now I’m able to see how grateful people actually are.”
Tanja said while she is working people often take the time to thank her for what he does.
“He didn’t realize how much his job meant to the community,” Tanja said. “He didn’t realize how much of an impact he makes on the community.”