This may save your life by Frank Seltzer

This is not about cigars….but please read it. I am a statistic. I am one of some 785,000 Americans who have a heart attack every year. I am lucky because they caught it and are fixing what is wrong.

As you read this I am recovering (I hope) from Open Heart Surgery. [I did write this before the procedure cuz either way I knew I wouldn’t be writing this week.] Yup, some bypasses and new valve were put in. My blockage is in the left main artery…aka The Widow Maker. It is the Left Anterior Descending artery, which is what killed NBC Newsman Tim Russert.

Genetics rule, Doctors don’t know

I am convinced this is genetics. Here’s why. I look an awful lot like my dad…same height build, etc. I truly am my father’s son. I even look a bit like my grandfather, though he was shorter. Both my grandfather and father died in 1963 from heart attacks. Therefore, I have always felt that I was destined to have the same heart problems as they did and constantly checked on it.

Everything had been looking good; oh the cholesterol was a bit high but nothing like my sister’s levels. Normal EKGs until this past November. During a routine physical the doctor looked at my EKG and said—you’ve had a heart attack. HUH? You’d better check with a cardiologist. We’ll refer you. The office they were referring me to said the earliest appointment was going to be Feb 5. Fortunately, my wife told them that was to long to wait and we wanted the next available appointment with anyone. I got in December 5th. After spending 5 minutes with this guy and getting another EKG, he said he too thought I had a heart attack. They scheduled me for a Nuclear Stress Test and an Echo Cardiogram. First available time was January.

They didn’t seem to be in a rush, so neither was I and didn’t worry bout it. 3 weeks ago, I went in for the tests and when done, I was about to leave when another cardiologist said I HAD had a heart attack and they wanted to do a cardiac catheterization the following week. I was expecting a roto rooter and maybe a stent. When they went up my artery, nothing doing. Full on open heart was needed,

No Symptoms (apparently)

I was really lucky in that my echo showed abnormalities. The scary thing is I didn’t have any of the classic heart attack symptoms and did not know I had a heart attack. Neither did my father nor my grandfather. My grandfather never had any symptoms until the day he died. My father, we found out later, had two prior heart attacks that were diagnosed as indigestion and gall bladder and the third was only listed as a possible attack until he got to the hospital. (He had a final attack a couple of weeks later in the hospital.) These were all silent heart attacks.

The American Heart Association (good friend of smokers…not…and one of my favorites based right here in Dallas) lists hearty attack symptoms on their website. We know most of them:

Chest Discomfort, a squeezing or pressure in your chest

Pain or discomfort in the arms

Pain or discomfort in the jaw

Pain or discomfort in the back

Shortness of breath

Cold sweats



They have added one saying your stomach could hurt too…but the problem is many docs don’t catch it. Or they misdiagnose it. And American Heart does not emphasize it. They emphasize the crushing feeling on your chest, sharp jaw pain or pain going down especially your left arm.

What I had, for several years, was indigestion. After a meal, I could not work out for a couple of hours. I thought it was the old–wait an hour after eating before going into the ocean thing. It got to the point even just walking after a meal would trigger what I thought was GERD. Severe indigestion so I thought. I told two doctors about it but since my EKG was normal they thought it was GERD and that I should take antacids. Two weeks ago, I got a new primary care doc who is older than me and when I told him my symptoms he immediately said oh that is classic angina. Why didn’t I have him several years ago?

To give you an idea how prevalent this is, in talking with one friend, his cardiologist and gastroenterologist were arguing for months over HIS symptoms, which were the same as mine. His Echo Cardiogram and EKGs were normal. And just last week I found out about another friend’s husband who went through the exact same thing about 2 years ago.

You need to know this.

The indigestion is part of the silent heart attack. They should be telling people this and they really aren’t. If you find that after a meal some exertion causes indigestion and an antacid doesn’t cure it…it very well could be heart problems. (See after you eat blood goes to the stomach to help digestion…if your heart is not putting out enough blood the indigestion happens. At least that is a simple version my doc told me.) Get yourself checked. And keep checking.

The other thing I learned is that while echo cardiograms and Nuclear Stress tests are good…the doctors often don’t know squat until they do a cardiac catheterization and actually look inside your arteries.

My buddy Dru had gone through the tests and everything was fine. The cardiologist told him it couldn’t be his heart because his echo and nuclear stress tests were ok. When they finally did the cardiac catheterization last November they found out he needed 5 stents and had severe blockages. He, like me, was a sick puppy but his doctors didn’t know it.

My friend’s husband was younger and worked out but also had the indigestion. His echo and stress and EKGs were fine but when his doctors finally did the cardiac catheterization he too needed 5 stents (his problem, like mine, involved the Widow Maker which if it hits you have 5 minutes to get to a hospital or get emergency care).

So bottom line….if you have indigestion or stomach pain when mildly exerting yourself after a meal and antacids don’t help… Go to your doctor. You are your best advocate and if your body is telling you something is wrong believe it. If it continues on a regular basis, I do not care if your EKG, Nuclear Stress Test or Echo Cardiogram are normal….keep after your doctors. Get a coronary angiogram. You may be ok, but do you want to take that chance?

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