MASON CITY — Leap Day is special for Gene Wagler of Clear Lake and his family.

On Feb. 29, 1996, Gene had a heart attack. He credits Dr. Samuel Congello, cardiologist with the Mason City Clinic and the Mercy Heart and Vascular Institute, with saving his life.

On Monday, the 20th anniversary of the event, Gene and his wife, Pat, went to the Mason City Clinic to surprise Congello with 20 red roses — one for each of the past 20 years of Gene’s life — and a card that Pat made.

“It’s not necessary,” Congello told them.

“It’s very necessary,” Pat said.

Gene didn’t have a history of heart problems before his heart attack. He said he didn’t feel any pain that day but he did experience a “gnawing” sensation in his chest.

A trip to the Mason City Clinic and the ER at Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa resulted in him spending most of the day with Congello, who performed a coronary angioplasty that included placing three stents.

Gene had to stay in the coronary care unit for seven days after the procedure. He was at the Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa West Campus for five more days after that.

“I didn’t think he would make it through those first few days,” Pat said.

Congello “has been taking care of me ever since,” Gene said.

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He has a check-up with Congello every six months. Congello also has done a number of other procedures on him over the years, including placing more stents.

Gene said “Dr. Sam” explains things to him in a way he can understand.

“He’s a straight-forward talker,” he said.

Gene said Congello gave him “20 years of my life.”

But he’s not the only one he is thankful for.

“I think we have the best medical staff here in North Iowa,” he said.

The Waglers have lived in Clear Lake for 33 years. Gene, 75, used to have an insurance agency and was a substitute teacher. He is now a para-educator, working with special needs students at Clear Lake Middle School.

Congello has been practicing in Mason City since 1992. He said in 2000 he stopped counting his procedures, but at that time he had already done around 10,000.

He said he appreciates the flowers and the card from the Waglers.

“It’s always nice to be reminded of things,” he said.

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