By Patrick J. Bradley
February is American Heart Month. This year, I celebrated the occasion by having a heart attack. It wasn’t by choice – and it happened this way:
When I went to bed on Feb. 1 – it was a Thursday night – I had a wee ache in my chest. Probably indigestion, I reasoned, or maybe stress. Happens to everybody, right?
That annoying ache was still there in the morning. Maybe even a little worse. And I felt some pressure on my chest. Not a lot. No big deal. But I’d had heart bypass surgery 13 years ago and a heart valve replacement in late 2021, so I figured I should mention it to my wife, a retired nurse.
She immediately called my primary care physician who prescribed a visit to the emergency room. “You know, to just to make sure you’re OK.”
I wasn’t. When the ER doctor at Memorial Medical Center saw my EKG and lab results, he whipped out his cell phone and summoned my cardiologist. Fifteen minutes later, the cardiologist, Dr. Sachin Wadhawan, stood at the foot of my bed and solemnly declared that I was having a heart attack.
Turns out, I had plenty of company. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 800,000 people in the United States have a heart attack every year. That works out to 2,200 each day.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. The incidence of heart disease is expected to increase in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes sense if you think about it. The COVID lockdown led many to make unhealthy food choices, drink more alcohol and limit physical activity. All three behaviors can contribute to heart disease.
The reluctance of many people to seek hospital emergency treatment for fear of contracting the coronavirus compounds the problem. It’s why the American Heart Association created “Don't Die of Doubt,” a national awareness campaign that reminds people that hospitals are the safest place to go when you have heart attack symptoms.
We all know, or should know, steps we can take to avoid heart disease. Among them: Don't smoke, stay active, make heart-healthy food choices, manage stress and get plenty of sleep.
But, it’s just as important to know and to be alert for heart attack symptoms – as my wife (very thankfully) was, and as I should have been. Those symptoms include:
√ Discomfort in the center of the chest. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain
√ Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
√ Shortness of breath
√ Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness
√ Indigestion including heartburn
If you suffer these symptoms, don’t hesitate. Call 9-1-1 and get emergency treatment.
It bears repeating: If you suffer heart attack symptoms, don’t hesitate. Call 9-1-1 and get emergency treatment.
Had my wife not acted as quickly as she did, things could easily have gone the other way. Thankfully, I didn’t need open heart surgery or stents, and I am home recuperating after spending four days at Buffalo General Medical Center, including two days of intensive care.
I was one of the fortunate ones.
To learn more about heart health and American Heart Month, visit heart.org.