RICHARD'S HEART STORY: A near death experience

Submitted by Richard Butschi of Center Point, Iowa

Current condition - Good (as far as I know and am told)
Cardiologist - Dr. David Rater (recently retired), now Dr. Laila Payvandi, UnityPoint Clinic Cardiology

Procedures - MI ('88), 2 stents ('96), MI ('12) followed 3 days later by mild stroke

At the age of 40, I experienced what my cardiologist called a “fluke” MI (Myocardial Infarction). I was in good shape and exercised regularly. One night on the basketball court, I experienced chest pains and saw my doctor the next day. He scheduled a treadmill test at St. Luke's where I ran a “perfect” test. 30 minutes later I was having a MI  in the cath lab. The clot was cleared with 2 shots of TPA and I had angioplasty as a precaution. No severe damage.

I had a history of high cholesterol and was a mild smoker from college until I was about 32, when I quit. In '88, I got into having an occasional cigarette, which is not a good idea. Smoking makes your arteries constrict and with plaque build-up, the constriction caused a piece of plaque to break away from the artery wall, which lodged in a narrowing of the artery. We found out after the MI that I had huge arteries, resulting in it taking a while for the blood flow to backup and eventually clot, blocking the artery completely – hence the “perfect” treadmill test and delay in the heart attack.

Lessons learned

Even though you are in good shape, be aware of the warning signs and little pains that you may experience.  Smoking, even just a little, can come back to bite you.  Do not go back to your old bad habits, even though your doctor says, “You may eventually forget that you even had this heart attack.”

More to the story

I regularly visited my family physician and cardiologist.  I exercised regularly and tried to eat in a relatively healthy manner, so I certainly wasn't anticipating another heart attack.  On September 27th of 2012, I was doing some yard work with a neighbor helping me.  We were wheel barrowing rock for a landscaping project.  I didn't feel that we were going at it too hard, but noticed that I was having trouble catching my breath.  I told him we'd take a break and went in the house to rest a bit.  I was having a little chest pain and thought it was indigestion, so I took some antacid and later, some aspirin.  Then I broke out into the dreaded cold sweat with nausea.  I knew this was it, dialed 911, hesitated on hitting the “send” button, but knew I had to do this.  After giving them the necessary information, I hollered at my neighbor who rushed in along with a couple others.  I then called my son, who is the nurse manager at St. Luke's Nassif Heart Center, who said he would meet me in the ER.

I credit the quick response of the Center Point Ambulance crew, who responded immediately, for saving my life, along with the fine folks in the St. Luke's ER.  When they pulled me from the ambulance at the ER, I apparently “coded”, as my son observed.  They defibbed me twice, restarted my heart and got me to the Cath Lab, where I coded a second time and received a couple more jolts to get things restarted, again.  I remember just seeing black, but seemed to be “conscious”.  Then there were flashes of light and images.  They were apparently the nurses working over me.  I vomited 3 times very quickly, like a drowning victim might, and heard the words, “He's back!”  I was still feeling chest pain, then it subsided quickly.  I was cleared.  Shortly thereafter, a doctor looked over me and told me he was the same doctor that had cleared me in '88.  I believe it was Dr. Halawa.

More Lessons learned

 Know all the signs of a heart attack.  It didn't dawn on me at the time that being short of breath was one of them, as the second attack was a totally different experience from the first one.  In '88, there was just a lot of pain in my chest, but surprisingly I had worse pain in my forearms and hands – like they were in a rock crusher. 

If I had remembered the warning sign of being short of breath at the onset, I could possibly have slowed my heart rate gradually, avoided the clotting of the artery and gotten help getting to the ER.  The repair and recovery would possibly have been much easier and quicker.  I could have also possibly avoided depression, some of the necessary drugs and the side effects that accompany them.

Returning home after my second MI

The morning after I returned home from the hospital following the second MI, I awoke to experience some more problems – not being able to blow my nose or tie my shoes.  I remembered a list of stroke symptoms taped to the inside of my medicine cabinet.  I started speaking aloud to myself, which sounded slurred, and checked myself in the mirror, sticking out my tongue, which was crooked - another sign of a stroke. 

A friend who had called to welcome me home, came to return me to St. Luke's, although I felt fine.  After tests, it was found to be a full stroke, rather than a mini-stroke.  Fortunately, the resulting effects were minor and short-lived, possibly due to the 3 blood thinners I was on from the MI.  I was back home in a couple of days.

My advice for you

One should never take their health for granted.  I wasn't blessed with the best of genes, which is something everyone should be aware of.  My mother lived with a heart valve replacement for many years, and my younger brother had bypasses and a couple severe attacks.  But a good genetic background is no guarantee of good health.  Maintaining a healthy weight and healthy eating habits are for everyone.  And as Dr. Rater always told me, “Exercise is the best medicine”, so get off the couch and get after it. 

I was lucky to dodge a couple of serious bullets.  Don't wait until you're clutching at your chest to think about what you should have done to avoid the situation.

Share this story with your family and friends to ensure they know the early warning signs of a heart attack.

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