PAUL'S HEART STORY: Don't ignore the warning signs of a heart attack!

A HEART story...
As told by patient:
Paul Forbes

What can I say... I believe mine is a very typical story. My father died of a massive heart attack in 1981, at the age of 62. He would be alive today, had his heart attack come later in his life.

The doctors of today, along with the technology available to them, are the creators of minor miracles. And as far as I am concerned, I had the best heart surgeon in Cedar Rapids, the state of Iowa and on and on. I remember talking to my cardiologist, Dr. Roy Venzon and surgeon, Dr James Levett, and what was presented to me was I could have five more stents for a total of six stents, or I could have bypass surgery, which they believed would present the best chance for a longer, healthier life.

My decision, and I know they thought I would think on it. I did... for about five seconds, and then I said let's go with the bypass. I do not think they were expecting that quick of a decision, but for me, what was there to decide. I wanted the best chance at a longer life, and if that was bypass surgery, so be it. Mine was a quintuple bypass, and I really felt like asking them, if I had any good arteries left going to my heart. But I didn't. The bypass decision was one of the best I have ever made.

Overall, my story started with a heart attack one July 2008 morning at work, at Rockwell Collins. I wish heart attack symptoms would always be a bit more nasty, distinctive, or obvious. Mine was that classic story of indigestion, heartburn, something in that line of thinking.

It did not seem serious by any means. I drove over to a nearby store and picked up some Mylanta or something like that, took that, and felt better... for about ten minutes. Then that feeling was back, this time a little worse, but still not worrying me, too much. I stayed at work for another half hour, then decided to have a co-worker go with me to the hospital.

I was driving. This thing just wasn't going away. So, off we went and we almost got to the hospital, and I was feeling better again, so I told him, we're going back to work, and we did. However, this time, I never made it out of the car. The feeling had gotten worse on the way back. Parked in the lot, I told my coworker to go on in, and I would stay in the car for a little, till I felt better. I am glad he did not listen to me, as he never left. He did not like the way I looked, and called inside to work and told them the situation, and then he drove me back to the hospital. At this point, I wasn't in the mood to disagree.

It did not take the admitting nurse long to decide I was not looking so good, and very soon, I was being checked for heart problems. I had one artery stented. It was 100 percent blocked, and another artery was 80 percent blocked.

About six months later, after another follow-up found five more severely blocked arteries, I had my bypass at St. Luke's in February 2009, by Dr. Levett. Here is my review of Dr Levett: there is not a better heart surgeon. I think that sums it up.

Did that ever change my perspective on life, how to live, what to eat... and how important friends and family are.

Honestly, how important all people are, and smiling and saying, "hi," to each person you meet; there is nothing wrong with that. You will feel better, and chances are, you just might make them feel a little better. I might be a little different than some people with heart problems, as mine came after a diagnosis of stage 2/3 colon cancer in August 2002, which required chemo therapy, and a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in June 2004. So for me, it was just another health setback, that I would have to overcome. Those two guys kind of prepared me for what was to come, and what I would feel. What should I feel?

Here is some advice back from my cancer days. When I was told I had a large tumor in my colon, it did not bother me one way or another. First off, I had already seen it during my colonoscopy, when the doctor thought I was asleep. I remember telling him, that can't be good, which surprised him a little. I suppose I look at things differently than movies and TV like to portray, and that being utter disbelief, that why me thing. Why not you? Why not me?

What always kept me going, was not thinking about it, at all. It was just a stay in the hospital. And if it had to be cancer and it had to be me, then good, that meant that some child somewhere did not have to have cancer. That is exactly how I looked at it. And above all, I never stopped smiling, or laughing. Both are good therapy.

So, I was prepared when MS came along, and then my heart problems cropped up. We have great doctors in this area, and St Luke's is obviously an excellent "heart" hospital. Don't fret the surgery. Relax. You are in good hands. And when you get out, you will absolutely do what the doctor tells you to do. You will eat better, live better, and I am telling you now, you will feel better. Your best medicine is smiling and laughing, bar none. And now, live one day at a time, but keep an eye on the future. Enjoy life. Get outside and do things. I for one, am getting my 2015 Elio (vehicle) this year, and as I like to say, "enjoy having nowhere to be, and going there."

If you have heart problems that run in your family, start doing checkups no later than 40 years old. And know the symptoms, know that a little heart burn or an indigestion feeling that does not go away, needs to be checked out immediately. Don’t drive around in circles like some people…

Heart problems are just stumbling blocks put in our way, to get us back on the right path. Live, love and smile. There you go; problem solved. 

We invite you to raise awareness about heart disease. Please share this page with your friends or "like" UnityPoint Health St. Luke's on Facebook. Spreading the word is an easy way YOU can help fight heart disease and hopefully SAVE A LIFE!

1. Paul Forbes, 4722 E Ave NE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52402-2128
2. Colon Cancer 2002, MS 2004, Heart attack in 2008; 5X bypass in 2009, Cellulitis in 2012, and a few bouts with internal bleeding along the way... since 2002
3. Dr Venzon is my cardiologist now. Dr Levett is my heart surgeon
4. Other care providers: Thomas Schroeder (family doctor); Dr Krain (neurologist); Dr Ghosh (oncologist); Dr Abramson (gastroenterologist). At the time of my cancer, it was Dr Misra. 
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