Veterinarian doesn’t let sleep apnea, AFib slow him down


JACKSON — Dr. Mark Titus just wants to keep busy.

The Jackson native, who completed his undergraduate degree at Morningside College followed by his doctoral degree in veterinary medicine at the University of Minnesota in 1973, tried to retire in February 2014.

“My mother, Gayle Titus, is going to be 96 and she is still our church custodian,” laughed Titus.

“I feel great — I’ll be 71 soon — and I hope I have her gene for longevity and a desire to work.”

Either way, retirement offered too slow a pace for Titus, and the experienced professional was soon back at it.

“I’m full-time with Newport Labs again, having rejoined them in February 2016, and my official title is senior manager of regulatory affairs and technical support,” Titus detailed, adding that his employment in the local animal vaccine industry dates to 1986 when he joined what was then Oxford Labs following a 13-year stint of veterinary clinical practice.

On a personal level, Titus shrugged off a scattering of what he calls “old man problems” (prostate issues, a need for hearing aids) in his early to mid-60s with appropriate treatments and remedies.

“I was just going on my merry way when about a year ago I started not sleeping so well,” Titus related.

“What was most concerning is that I would wake up short of breath, and I needed to take a couple of intentional deep breaths to feel better,” said Titus.

He suspected something wasn’t right, but it wasn’t until another relatively minor but nagging problem with a toe propelled him toward a surgical procedure that he discovered the real threat.

“I went in for some toe surgery, had gotten through the physical exam fine and was in the pre-op when the nurse held her stethoscope to my chest for a long time in one spot,” said Titus.

“I know a little about cardiology, so that concerned me.”

The toe surgery has yet to occur, because a resulting EKG revealed that Titus had atrial fibrillation (AFib) and needed to see a cardiologist, pronto.

“And my sleep apnea was concurrent with all of that,” said Titus. “Cardiologists will tell you that if you have AFib and sleep apnea, you’re knocking on a door you don’t want to be knocking on.”

Titus was ordered to take a sleep test, which he could fortunately undergo close to home at the Sanford Jackson Medical Center.

“It was nice to get it done locally,” said Titus.

“The technician woke me up at 2 a.m. and said, ‘OK, I’ve seen enough,’ and put me on a machine that assists with breathing.

“By 5:30 a.m., she woke me up again and kicked me out,” he chuckled. “I’d slept very soundly, even dreamed for the first time in a long while, and it was pretty clear I needed that.”

Dr. John Yu, a pulmonology specialist with Sanford Health, prescribed a BiPAP machine and soon the mechanism (which assists with both inhalation and exhalation during sleep) was Titus’ nightly companion.

“For me, it was about a two-week adjustment,” he admitted. “Having that mask strapped to one’s face is a different sensation, and I swear to God, every time I’d get it on my nose would run or itch — and when you take it off, it breaks the seal.

“I expect some people adjust to it faster, and for some it may take longer, but the trick is to stick with it because you will start to feel the benefit — because taking a 90-minute nap isn’t really a viable option when you’re in the workforce.”

Over the past four months, the BiPAP machine has allowed Titus to enjoy consistent nights of refreshing sleep.

Equally important, Titus has been treated by Sanford cardiologist Dr. Orvar Jonsson, who ultimately performed an electric cardioversion on Titus to shock his heart back into a normal rhythm.

That didn’t occur, however, before Titus experienced what he called “some medical adventures” as types and dosages of various medications (including drugs such as metoprolol, Tambocor and Flecainide) were tried.

“I had two ambulance rides before we got it just right,” said Titus. “But my heart rhythm is normal as of last month’s checkup, even though it took a little effort to get the right doses of medicine in place.”

His recent health roller coaster gives Titus incentive to share the message that if people have any suspicions about their health, they shouldn’t ignore their instincts but should seek a professional medical opinion.

“I didn’t know I had AFib until I went in for that toe surgery,” said Titus. “I didn’t sense that my heart was out of rhythm and skipping beats, and I wasn’t coughing or anything.

“Sure, I knew I wasn’t in the best of shape and could stand to lose a few pounds, but I didn’t realize I had sleep apnea either for several months.

“If you have sleep apnea, or think you do, you need to get it checked out.”

Titus has many incentives to stay healthy. His wife Linda, to whom he has been married since 1969, is a retired district court judge who happens to be greatly enjoying her own retirement.

The couple’s two sons (Daniel of Omaha and Andy, an attorney in Worthington) have produced three grandchildren whom the Tituses adore — and that includes Andy’s brand-new infant son, born July 16.

“We’re traveling soon to the Panama City, Fla., area for a biennial get-together with Linda’s family,” said Titus. “I have two days of fishing planned; I love saltwater fishing.”

And Titus remains an important professional contributor who relishes the stimulation and challenges his career continues to provide.

About the only difference now is that Titus must adhere to his prescribed medication regimen and take the BiPAP machine with him wherever he goes.

“That’s probably eliminated my camping, but I still fish up at Lake of the Woods twice a year,” said Titus. “We stay in cabins with electricity, though.”

However, the pesky toe trouble that may have saved Titus’ life still awaits attention.

“I dealt with the life-threatening issues, but I’m back to putting cotton between my toes,” laughed Titus.

“I’ve had top-notch care from Sanford, and we’re lucky to have these medical professionals so close — because Rochester and Minneapolis are a long way away.

“I’ve been giving Sanford Health a lot of business, and I’m feeling good.”