Presence Saint Joseph saves man from ‘widow maker’

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You may have heard of the “widow maker.”

The term refers to a condition that has been responsible for the sudden death of numerous apparently healthy men and women.

It is the nickname for when a highly stenotic left main coronary artery or proximal left anterior descending (LAD) coronary artery of the heart gets completely occluded, and causes a massive heart attack that frequently leads to sudden death. A notable victim of the widow maker was the late Tim Russert, former NBC News Washington Bureau Chief and moderator of NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

“So often a blockage in the main artery of the heart goes undetected,” said Dr. J. Michael Tuchek, a cardiothoracic surgeon with Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center, who has played a key role in saving a number of lives. “And it really emphasizes the need for heart scans and physical examinations.”

Shorewood resident Bill Ryan was almost a victim when he returned from a very active vacation. The 65-year-old was known for his interests in hiking, snowmobiling and rollerblading. His wife Nancy said that not only is he the most active person she knows, but he also eats right and is the picture of health. So when he complained of shortness of breath during one of his adventures, she encouraged him to visit his doctor.

“Fortunately, Dr. Gary Trager, in internal medicine, decided it would be a good idea to schedule him for a stress test as a precaution. And when Dr. Chris Kolyvas, the cardiologist, followed his markedly abnormal stress test with an angiogram, he called me immediately,” said Dr. Tuchek, who immediately headed back to Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet when he got the word.

Ryan’s left main artery was 99 percent blocked. Dr. Tuchek performed emergency bypass surgery and Ryan was home within days of the procedure. Soon he will work his way back up to doing the things he loves through cardiac rehabilitation.

From the minute a widow maker hits, survival time ranges from minutes to several hours. A widow maker can induce cardiac arrest which may result in death within four minutes of no circulation.

The Ryan family, recognizes how fortunate they were that the physicians from primary care, cardiology and cardiac surgery wasted no time and cheated the “widow maker.”

Provided by
Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center