It took Jameson MacInnis eight hours to shovel his driveway after the first snowfall of the 2018 – 2019 winter season. It wasn’t a heavy snowfall, nor is MacInnis’ driveway especially long, but the physical demands of shoveling snow can be daunting for someone living with a health condition.
Diagnosed with asthma as a child, physical activity like playing sports or competing with friends in pick-up basketball was a little more challenging for MacInnis. He needed a few more rests here and there, but he was never so exhausted that exercise would knock him to the ground. It wasn’t until 2010 when he woke up on the floor of his office, surrounded by co-workers, that he realized a more serious issue was at play.
Prior to that, MacInnis didn’t feel ill, wasn’t performing strenuous activity and didn’t experience any shortness of breath. But that day, his heart rate plunged to 30 beats per minute — much lower than the normal 60 to 100 beats per minute for a healthy 30-year-old.
“I felt completely normal, but they kept me overnight in the hospital, and my heart was going down to like six or seven beats per minute,” MacInnis said.
After numerous tests and no conclusions, MacInnis’ doctors ordered a heart MRI that revealed he had a complex issue known as left ventricular noncompaction cardiomyopathy, or LVNC, a rare form of heart disease.
“LVNC forms when you’re in utero,” MacInnis explained. “The left side of your heart never fully compacts in development — it stays like a sponge. Because of that, it doesn’t squeeze as hard or pump as much blood.”
Unknown to the medical community until after MacInnis was born, LVNC can cause breathlessness, fatigue and fainting, requiring patients to closely monitor their pulse and limit their physical activity. Outside of a heart transplant, there’s no cure for LVNC, however, it is treatable with medications and devices. For MacInnis, a pacemaker controls the electrical signaling to his heart and acts as a defibrillator in the event of cardiac arrest.
“They put in a defibrillator so if my heart ever stopped, it would save my life. It has a couple of times,” he said.
Life as a homeowner
Now 43, MacInnis has spent over 10 years not just managing LVNC but defying it. Endurance is challenging, but he can get through a non-cardio workout like strength training just as well as the next person. He has lost more than 100 pounds since that fateful day, which has since corrected his diabetes and relieved stress on his heart. That hard work and commitment also made it easier to fulfill the responsibilities of a newer homeowner, but with one exception.
“I’m pretty limited when it comes to anything requiring endurance or stamina,” he said. “Luckily my house is fairly small and it’s one floor so there are no stairs. Yard work may be challenging, but it’s not nearly as bad as shoveling snow.”
The winter of 2018 – 2019 was the first in which MacInnis had his own driveway in Bristol, Connecticut. It’s a region where big snow, and clearing snowfalls, are inevitable. Only two memorable snowfalls fell that season, but even those were two that he could’ve done without. Proud and determined to clear his property, he shoveled the 60-foot- long driveway by himself, consuming two full days and leaving him dangerously exhausted on both occasions.
“One time, it took me eight hours from start to finish. I had to take the day off from work. I would shovel for a few minutes, then my heart rate would get so high, and I would have to stop and lean up against my house until it went down.”
Though MacInnis closely monitors his heart rate with an Apple Watch, there’s nothing about shoveling wet, heavy snow that’s easy or safe for those with heart disease. Unwilling to put his life at risk or waste an entire day clearing snow for another season, MacInnis started exploring his snow-clearing options. He asked a neighbor for a snow blower recommendation, and they suggested an Ariens Sno-Thro, leading MacInnis to his Deluxe 24.
“After just one snowfall, I quickly realized how the Ariens Sno-Thro dramatically improved my quality of life,” MacInnis said. “Before, I had to call off of work on the days I shoveled. Being able to take 20 minutes to throw snow and still have time to come into work and have a cup of coffee was game-changing.”
The time savings is a benefit quickly realized by all first-time Sno-Thro users. For those at elevated risk for heart attack and stroke, it’s a lifesaver. Vasoconstriction, or the narrowing of blood vessels, can occur in cold temperatures, lead to heightened blood pressure and create hazardous situations. According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, shoveling snow is responsible for as many as 770 cardiovascular emergencies in the United States each year.
According to MacInnis, removing this stressful work has been a huge relief.
“It’s peace of mind,” he said. “When your heart rate gets high in cold air, less oxygen goes to your heart. And if your heart isn’t strong, that’s not a good environment to put it through the wringer.”
For health, time, or both, the most valuable attribute of MacInnis’ Sno-Thro is the independence it provides and the empowerment that follows. Whether it’s a garden- variety snowfall or the next nor’easter, the weather events that once stirred anxieties are now no concern.
“My Ariens Sno-Thro makes me feel like I live a normal life.”