Local dentist gives back after diagnosis of his own
By Heather Graves
ASHWAUBENON – Dr. Samuel Schmidt, owner of the Ashwaubenon’s new dental office – Titletown Dental – said he grew up around dentists.
“My dad was actually in finance with a large dental group, Dental Associates, so I grew up around dentists,” he said. “Actually, throughout high school, my part-time job was cleaning a dental office in the evenings,” he said.
Looks like it stuck.
After graduating from Wauwatosa High School, Schmidt attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he obtained his undergraduate degree in biology in 2008.
From there, he went to the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, where he earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery in 2012.
“After graduation, I got a job with Dental Associates in Green Bay, so that brought me to the area,” Schmidt said. “I worked with them at the Green Bay clinic for about four years, before they wanted to open the brand-new Howard location, which I opened for them as the only dentist there to start. I stayed there for about five years before opening Titletown Dental.”
He said it is a scratch start-up.
“We took an old pizza place and gutted the space to build it up exactly how we wanted,” he said. “We weren’t necessarily planning to open it in Ashwaubenon, but it felt like the ideal location with visibility and sort of the heartbeat or center of the city. My wife, Heather, is from the area, grew up in De Pere, and we definitely were committed to staying in the area in general, as this is our home.”
Things seemed to be going well for Schmidt, until a test for what his wife thought was sleep apnea in 2020 snowballed into a much bigger issue.
“I went to get a consult regarding that,” he said. “The doctor listened to my heart as part of the routine exam and noticed a murmur, and when asking me some questions, I had to admit that I did have some minor symptoms. Such as, I did crossfit pretty regularly, but I had been feeling like my cardio was getting a little worse for some reason, and I would get a little dizzy at times for no apparent reason. Because of all that, he sent me to get an echocardiogram, which is where they figured out I have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. They referred me to Mayo Clinic quickly after as I apparently have a slightly more serious form of the disease.”
Schmidt said hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a genetic heart condition where the thickness of the septum – the wall of the heart between the ventricles – is too thick.
“This causes issues with the heart being able to pump properly and can lead to electrical problems and worst case, sudden cardiac arrest,” he said. “For example, a normal heart may be 10-12mm thick in that area, where mine is almost 30mm.”
While at Mayo, Schmidt said doctors calculated his odds of having a sudden cardiac arrest in the next five years at about roughly 8%.
“Which at first doesn’t seem like terrible odds, but the thought of having an almost 10% chance of not making it to 40 and seeing my kids grow up, that’s pretty scary,” he said. “Due to this, they implanted an ICD, sort of like a pacemaker, but with the capability of shocking me and hopefully stopping a sudden cardiac arrest should it ever start to happen. On the bright side, I did still go through with the sleep study, and I don’t have sleep apnea.”
It was through his diagnosis, Schmidt said, that he got connected with Project ADAM – Automated Defibrillators in Adam’s Memory – which aims to prevent sudden cardiac death in children and adolescents through education and implementation of life-saving programs.
“Project ADAM began in 1999 after the death of Adam Lemel, a 17-year-old Whitefish Bay High School student who collapsed and died while playing basketball,” he said. “He suffered sudden cardiac arrest and an AED could have saved his life. His parents collaborated with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin to create the program, and it has grown incredibly with the goal of creating heart safe schools.”
Schmidt said Titletown Dental’s partnership with Project ADAM is a little different by independently raising funds.
“But they are going to help us identify schools in the area that could particularly need an AED, and then help them get the training they need so it can be useful,” he said. “They also may be able to get us some savings on AEDs, which could allow us to buy more of them and therefore donate more of them.”
Schmidt said the plan is to start with local schools.
“Project ADAM focuses on schools, because as much as 20% of a community passes through schools each day from students, parents, teachers, staff, etc,” he said.
Schmidt said a portion – roughly 5-10% – of every new patient exam will go toward AED purchases.
“I can’t say this is set in stone, and actually I would hope in the future I can raise this amount as we get on more solid footing,” he said. “I have a separate account, where at the end of each month, I can run the numbers and calculations and just transfer the money. Then when we reach enough to buy an AED, we will. Depending on the model and other factors, AEDs can cost somewhere in the $1,500-$2,000 range.”
Based on Titletown Dental’s early growth so far, Schmidt said he feels confident they’ll be able to buy and donate at least two AEDs our first year, maybe even three.
He said he loves being a dentist, but didn’t want it to be the only thing he did.
“I wanted Titletown Dental to be an important contributing part of the community and give back in some way,” Schmidt said. “And this just happens to be a personal way that I think we can hopefully make a difference. Hopefully, no one ever uses an AED we help get somewhere, but if it’s ever used, even one time, then it was clearly worth it.”
He said it’s a cause that hits close to home.
“I can’t even remember all the times I was dizzy or lightheaded at the end of a workout and just figured it was normal, and I was pushing myself,” Schmidt said. “And the whole time, I was probably dangerously close to sudden cardiac arrest. I was really lucky with no backup like I have now. Or how many times I was just walking into a local food shop with a genetic heart condition, but no idea about it, and if I went down, was there any AEDs around to save my life? Probably not. It is just kind of scary, and I know I’m very lucky, but I don’t want others to be unlucky.”