Ep 129: Given 6 Months to Live: Healthcare Policy from the Patient’s Perspective

You won’t find many people on this planet that have a story to tell like Nick Zerwas. Born with congenital heart defect, Zerwas has been given six months to live on six separate occasions but he’s still here living life to the fullest. Who better to get an opinion on healthcare policy changes than someone like Zerwas, who has also served in the Minnesota House of Representatives? Join us as we hear his amazing story of beating the odds and how he’s overcoming his greatest fear of wasting precious time by trying to make a difference.

Click the timestamps below to help you navigate through the many topics we discussed.

On This Episode:

We’ve spent numerous episodes discussing healthcare policy from the viewpoint of a CRNA, but today we take a different look at what needs to change and why it’s important to be active in the policy-making process.

Today we want to introduce you to Nick Zerwas, a special person who has overcome all odds to be here today. Back when he was just three days old, Nick’s parents received news from doctors that he was born with a severe heart defect. At that time, they were told that he wouldn’t live past the age of seven.

Almost seven years later on May 17, 1987, Nick became the first person to receive the Fontan procedure at the Minnesota Children’s Hospital and survive. He did, however, suffer paralysis of his right vocal chord which has permanently affected his voice, but it was still overall great news.

Since that time, he’s had open heart surgery 10 times and doctors have told him he has six months to live….on six different occasions. Now he’s married with a four-year-old son after serving on the Minnesota House of Representatives and advocating for patients and patient families facing chronic diseases.

On this show, he’s going to share his incredible story of medical miracles and how he’s used these multiple leases on life to try and make a difference.

So as you get started on the episode, keep an ear out for these topics:

  • The medical emergency when he was three days old and the severe heart defect doctors discovered.
  • The new surgery procedure that doctors presented as the only option when he was around six years old. Survival rate from this surgery was just 20%.
  • The many procedures has undergone through his life and being told he has six months to live multiple times.
  • How debilitating have a lack of hope truly is.
  • He never planned ahead or looked to the future as a young child and young adult.
  • What pushed him to run for public office at 25 and then for the Minnesota House at 31.
  • What his goals are for healthcare policy.
  • From his view, what role can CRNAs play in policy-making.
  • The best ways to communicate with your elected your official.

Check it out the interview at the top of the page and use the timestamps to help you navigate through the many topics we discussed.

[3:23] – Introducing our guest today

[5:32] – Nick’s health history

[10:26] – Surviving the Fontan procedure

[13:01] – Being told 6 months left to live multiple times

[16:00] – Julie interviewed for anesthesia school

[19:57] – How has this shaped Nick

[25:44] – His decision to run for public office at 25 

[28:40] – Health policy

[32:34] – CRNA’s role in policy-making

[36:48] – Pitting people against each other

[40:22] – What is important to all elected officials?

[43:15] – How effective are emails?

[43:15] – Closing thoughts

[50:03] – Lightning round


“I could never appreciate, if I didn’t experience first-hand, how debilitating and crippling the lack of hope is. I lived for nearly a year of my life with little and then basically no hope. “

-Nick Zerwas

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