240 Beats per Minute. Life with an Unruly Heart.

240 beats


By Bernard Witholt, PhD with Roger M. Mills, MD

Available on Amazon


240 Beats per Minute recounts an extraordinary conversation—the combination of Bernie’s journal and Roger’s commentary. It’s a read of such continuing surprise, discovery, triumph, and, in the end, mutual understanding and respect, that we readers become the luckiest of eavesdroppers: Long after we finish Life with an Unruly Heart, Bernie and Roger’s conversation will live in our minds.”
—PAUL DIMOND, lawyer and author of The Belle of Two Arbors and
Beyond Busing, winner of the Ralph J. Bunche Book of the Year Award

“This absorbing, ambitious blend of memoir, science, and friendship traces in two voices the journey of Bernard Witholt, an eminent Dutch biologist with a diseased heart and his lifelong friend, cardiologist Roger Mills. Witholt grapples—sometimes unconventionally—with years of tachycardia while stubbornly attempting to sustain a vigorous life. One cannot reflect on this compelling account without saying that it has heart in more ways than one. Witholt brings a scientist’s curiosity into how the heart works to his problems, while Mills’ interspersed, accessible reflections on his friend’s journal entries are fascinating, compassionate, and clear. This book is a gift to healthcare professionals treating heart patients, to patients facing their own conditions, and to readers open to a story about resilience in the face of challenge, about the mechanisms of an “unruly” heart, about the power of friendship even after death, and about the dignity of a life well-lived.”
— JAN WORTH -NELSON, Editor, East Village Magazine, poet, author, and lecturer emerita, University of Michigan, Flint

“Kudos to Drs. Witholt and Mills for bringing to light one of the most important issues in contemporary medicine: the psychological impact of sophisticated medical treatments. This book is a must-read for those of us who practice high tech medicine and for our patients who spend their (remaining) lives on the cutting edge.”
— PETER KOWEY, MD, FACC, FAHA, FHRS, Emeritus Chair, Cardiology, Lankenau Heart Institute, William Wikoff Smith Chair, Cardiovascular Research, Lankenau Institute of Medical Research, Professor of Medicine and Pharmacology, Jefferson Medical College

A Note From Roger:

In 1999, my close friend, the Dutch scientist Bernie Witholt, received a device, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), to control a potentially fatal heart rhythm problem: ventricular tachycardia, . I had completed my formal training as a cardiologist at Harvard’s Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in 1975 and had spent 30 years caring for seriously ill patients. Yet, as I watched Bernie living with his ICD, I realized that no one really understood how patients adjusted to these devices. Cardiologists implanted the devices and said, “There, that’s fixed. Next.”  As a scientist, Bernie quickly realized that his problem was not “fixed.” With his ICD, he had just traded one very serious problem for a new one, also serious but less likely to be fatal.

Bernie was a scientist and teacher; he wanted to share his thoughts about his heart and his ICD with others. He wrote extensively over several years, with every intention of putting his thoughts together into a book. He did not have the opportunity to do that, but his wife generously allowed me to edit and arrange what he wrote.

I structured Bernie’s book as a continuation of a conversation that we carried on over decades. That conversation began at Amherst College, so a little background about the college in the 1960s was important to set the stage. I have also added some technical information and, from time to time, made comments when, based on my thirty years of clinical practice, some particular nuance of the doctor–patient relationship is important.

Today, more than twenty years after Bernie’s first tachycardia, there’s a growing medical literature on the quality of life for patients with implanted cardiac devices, and a consensus that depression and anxiety are common in ICD patients has emerged. I hope Bernie’s story will help a new generation of ICD recipients cope successfully with the stresses that these devices can engender.