From left, Tom Shunk, of Potts Grove, and Duff Ripka, of New Columbia. Ripka’s post about a recent heart condition prompted Shunck to get checked out. Shunk credited the post with getting him to the doctor, and saving his life.

A New Columbia man with a heart for people recently experienced some heart problems of his own.

Raymond “Duff” Ripka, 66, spent much of his life serving others in his capacity as executive director of the Rockwell Center, part-owner of Country Comfort in New Columbia, running Love INC for a short time and retiring from Maria Joseph Manor in Danville. Most of his work grew out of his desire to help others, and degrees he garnered later in life in the social sciences and working to become a certified personal care home administrator.

Now retired, two years ago Ripka got the shock of a lifetime when some mild chest pain he experienced shortly after knee replacement surgery turned out to be a heart attack.

“I had been discharged two days before Christmas. I was just getting done with a chest cold and was actually standing at the sink washing off some vegetables when I took a deep breath and my chest felt heavy,” said Ripka.

He originally though that perhaps he had pneumonia. After promising his then fiancé at the time, April Clemens, that if he ever felt ill he would go get checked out, he decided to go to Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg.

“I originally felt a little silly because by this time, I was feeling much better. But as soon as I mentioned my chest (in the ER) they started a bunch of tests to see what was going on,” he said.

Dr. James Connolly, of the ER staff, ordered an echocardiogram (EKG), which was slightly different than what he received after his knee surgery. The new one, and the previous, both looked fine.

“They could not tell what the issue was,” Ripka said, adding that he was sure at this point he needed to go to another facility for further investigation.

During the same visit, he met with Dr. John Pfeifer of Evangelical’s Heart and Vascular Center, who wanted him to have a CAT scan to eliminate pneumonia or a blood clot. That elicited some good, and bad, news for Ripka.

“The good news was I had neither, the bad news was they still did not know what was going on,” he said.

At this point they wanted him to have a catherization, and again Ripka thought he would need to leave Evangelical and travel to Geisinger or another facility.

“They had a state-of-the-art Cath Lab right there.”

It was confirmed that Ripka did have a heart attack.

“One of my arteries was 100% blocked. I had no idea. They did everything right there. They put a stent in right away,” he said.

He spent just two nights in the ICU to make sure everything was okay. Once home he decided to post on Facebook about what happened to him the past few days. Unbeknownst to him at the time a friend, Tom Shunk, of Potts Grove, had just come in from working in his body shop and was catching up on the social media site. He hadn’t been feeling very well that day.

“I read Duff’s post, went into the kitchen and said to my wife ‘you better take me to the hospital,’” said Shunk.

“Like a typical guy I was going to pass it off as shoulder pain,” said Shunk, explaining that seeing Duff’s post saved his life.

Shunk had his wife take him to Geisinger where he found out he was having a heart attack. After going through testing, it was determined he had an aneurism.

“I told them my uncle, Dad and grandfather all died of an aneurism,” he said.

Soon another friend also thanked him for posting about his experience after he had experienced a stroke.

After going through rehabilitation, Ripka said he can now be found at the local YMCA five days a week doing either weight-lifting or cardio exercises. On the weekends he does the elliptical at home.

Getting back into shape was important for Ripka who has spent the last 50 years umpiring fast-pitch softball, baseball and Little League games in the area, as well as some coaching.

Shunk said he remembers Ripka from the days of coaching their kids in Little League.

“He really is one of the most positive people I met. A guy with a heart of gold. And he really did save my life. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him,” he said.

American Heart Month

For more than 50 years, February has been designated as American Heart Month and local hospitals and the American Heart Association are touting the month as an ideal time to remind the community to focus on their hearts. The goal: to eradicate heart disease and stroke.

According to Dr. Joyce Rollor, of Geisinger, the risk factors for heart disease are the same throughout the U.S.

“Obesity and a family history can most definitely lead to heart disease over time. Diabetes is also a risk factor,” she said, adding that sometimes the symptoms of a heart attack, for example, can differ between men and women.

General symptoms of a heart attack can include chest tightness, or pain in the jaw or arm, and shortness of breath. In women, other symptoms can include nausea and a just generally not feeling well. And Dr. Rollar expressed that not everyone will present with multiple symptoms.

“If any of the symptoms come on very suddenly, it is best to get checked. Don’t wait at home. Take it serious,” she said.

She listed a few steps that can be taken to lessen someone’s risk for heart disease or a heart attack.

• If you smoke or are around others that smoke, stop!

• Try to exercise 30 minutes, at least five days a week

• Eat well – eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains

“It’s all about making lifestyle changes in order to decrease one’s risk. And it’s never too late. Start now,” she urged.

Rollor, who has been with Geisinger more than three years, has taken a special interest in women’s heart health.

“Since their symptoms are more subtle, they can often be missed,” she said.

Go Red for Women is the American Heart Association’s global initiative to end heart disease and stroke in women.

The association lists heart disease as the No. 1 killer of women, killing more women than all forms of cancer combined.

They have outlined some steps for women to take to GO RED:

G – Get your numbers – ask your doctor to check your blood pressure and cholesterol

O – Own your lifestyle – stop smoking, lose weight, exercise and eat healthy

R – Realize your risk – Heart disease kills one of three women

E – Educate your family – Teach about healthy food choices and the importance of staying active

D – Don’t be silent – Tell every woman you know that heart disease is their No. 1 killer

Deanna Hollenbach, of Evangelical, urged everyone – male or female — to use their heart assessment tool to determine how likely a person is of developing heart disease, which can be found on their website at

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