Even those ‘in the know’ can be targets of heart health threats

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Provena Mercy Center, Aurora- Centerscope Magazine photo shoot for True North Custom Publishing, February 14, 2005 © Michael Hudson, All Rights Reserved

Patients like to know that their caregivers understand exactly what they are going through.

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Alpha Phi advocates for women's heart health

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Dave Angel is director of medical imaging and laboratory services at Presence Mercy Medical Center in Aurora. In November 2012, he also became the director of the catheterization laboratory.

Ironically, Dave, 58, survived a 99 percent blockage in his left anterior descending coronary artery in April of 2012 that would be studied and “viewed’ in that very lab. A blockage this severe is known as the “widow maker,” and it occurred after an earlier diagnosis of an irregular heartbeat.

“It’s amazing that I’m not dead and have no heart damage,” Dave said.

Dave’s journey through cardiac diagnosis and treatment began in 2009.

“Four years ago, I came home from work and felt like I had a fish in my chest. It didn’t hurt. I thought I needed to eat. After I ate, the feeling didn’t go away.”

Dave’s wife Cheryl, a nurse at Central DuPage Hospital “took my pulse. She said I should go to the emergency room. I said I felt fine. When I sat down, however, I realized I was not thinking clearly. I agreed to go to the emergency room.”

Dave was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

The cardiologist used medicine to bring Dave’s heartbeat back to normal. After Dave experienced three more similar episodes over time which he was able to convert with medicine, he decided to blog for more information about “A-fib.”

“I found mostly negative blogs,” Dave admitted. “They were written by people who were embracing illness. I realized that people who are out living are not blogging.”

In April 2012, Dave was out walking his dog when he ran out of breath. He also had a strange feeling in his chest. When he took a big breath, the feeling went away.

“It was a non-event for me,” Dave said. “Two days later, the tightness returned but then went away. I know the symptoms of a heart attack, but since the pain disappeared, I ignored them. While walking can bring the pain, resting makes it stop.”

Dave scheduled a nuclear stress test. A radioactive isotope is fed through an IV so that photographs can be taken of the heart during and after stress tests.

“I flunked my stress test,” Dave said. “I was admitted to Presence Mercy Medical Center’s short stay unit and cath lab. I woke up in recovery and was shown a photo of my huge blockage. They did a balloon angioplasty to push the blockage to the sides and used a stint to hold the artery open. The doctor said my regimen of 325 milligrams of aspirin a day saved my life. It thinned my blood enough to get it through the blocked artery.”

Dave said A-fib research and treatment is a growing field. Presence Mercy Medical Center, known as the “heart hospital,” is an accredited Chest Pain Center recognized for skill from pre-hospitalization, through surgery, to rehab and support. The hospital is in the process of expanding and renovating its electrophysiology cath lab and open heart program.

Today, Dave is on Plavix, medicine for A-fib, and aspirin therapy. Hia advice is simple and direct, and built on first-hand experience.

“If you’re supposed to take aspirin, take it,” Dave said. “If you have any kind of chest pains, tell someone. Don’t be a hero. Listen to your doctors and do what they say. Share with them what’s going on with your body. Be grateful you’re still in the game.”

“This experience has really been enlightening. Each day is a gift. I’ve been able to wear life much looser since April. Appreciate the good and bad in life, and be glad you are still in the game.”