Supercharged bolts of lightning carrying one billion joules of energy that light up the night sky, leaving behind an eerie silence, followed by a clap of thunder louder than a jackhammer. That’s also the best way to describe the power of a thunderstorm. That’s the battle Oscar Botello’s heart fought to win during a massive heart attack. It’s a battle even physician’s worried he might not survive.
In August 2016, Botello had a “widowmaker” heart attack, nicknamed because of the high mortality rate associated with blockages in the left anterior descending artery.
“I was a runner. I was active. I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke. I thought I was healthy as a horse,” Botello recalled of his life before the heart attack. “Then one day, my son found me bent over in the kitchen grabbing my chest and my wife rushed me to the hospital.”
After Botello was taken to a hospital in nearby Kingwood, he was flown by Life Flight® to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.
“Not only was Oscar’s heart attack a severe one, but it put his body in a state of shock that was worsened by a serious condition called acute stent thrombosis.” cardiologist Marwan Jumean, MD, said. “We use a stent to open the blocked artery and restore blood flow to the heart muscle. However, when stent thrombosis occurs, a new clot forms in the stent, essentially blocking blood flow again to the heart muscle. When this happens, patients usually have a 50 percent survival rate.”
Botello was rushed to the heart catheterization lab to clear the blockages in the stent. But there were more complications. Scar tissue from the heart attack had begun to form on Botello’s heart and he developed life-threatening arrhythmias called a ventricular tachycardia storm, an electrical storm in the heart.
“It was almost like an electrical short circuiting of his heart, causing him to have cardiac arrest after arrest after arrest,” said Saumya Sharma, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist and assistant professor of cardiac electrophysiology at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).
Dr. Sharma performed multiple ablations on Botello’s heart to destroy the areas causing the irregular heart rhythms, which helped put the heart back into normal rhythm and allowed it to recover. Even after Botello’s heart resumed a normal rhythm, it was still unclear if his heart would recover enough to keep him alive. Botello was placed on the heart transplant recipient list as physicians utilized advanced therapies to try and heal his heart.
“There’s an art to utilizing medications to help someone’s heart recover from something like this. At the Center for Advanced Heart Failure, our team is well versed in the latest research on medications and advanced therapies to repair the heart. For Oscar, the procedures and medications worked well together and we were able to take him off the transplant list,” said Dr. Jumean, who is also an assistant professor in the department of Advanced Heart Failure at McGovern Medical School.
Botello spent several months in the hospital and was able to mount a slow and steady recovery.
“If it wasn’t for my remarkable support system, my wife, my brother, my sister, my friends, I don’t know what I would’ve done,” he said.
When Botello left the hospital, he found himself about 50 pounds lighter and unable to walk on his own without assistance. Botello had developed neuropathy, a condition causing weakness and numbness in his hands and feet. It would take months of physical therapy, as well as regaining some of the weight he lost, before he could return to his previous lifestyle.
“We created a plan to get him out of the wheelchair and ultimately walking independently. I believe the key is having patients set short-term goals that serve the long-term goal. In his case, we went from wheelchair, to walker, to hiking sticks and finally walking on his own. It helped keep him motivated and prevented him from feeling overwhelmed,” said Trevor Watson, PT, DPT, Botello’s physical therapist at TIRR Memorial Hermann-The Woodlands.
“Trevor was remarkable,” Botello said. “He never let me get down, even when I wasn’t feeling strong at first. For that hour of therapy, I felt like someone really cared enough about me to encourage me to keep coming.”
The physical therapy, combined with at-home exercises and a positive spirit, helped Botello walk on his own again and eventually begin more vigorous activities like jogging and cycling, as well as return to some of his hobbies, like fishing and golfing.
“Before the heart attack, I was an animal. I was always going. Now, I appreciate things more. I try not to get stressed,” Botello said.
At a recent checkup, Botello’s wife showed Dr. Jumean a video of him running on the treadmill. It’s a turnaround Dr. Jumean believes was truly astounding.
“Oscar’s recovery really was a team effort. When you consider his positive spirit and perseverance, combined with the expertise of the physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and nutritionists treating him at that critical time, the capabilities here at the Heart & Vascular Institute to perform the high risk procedures he needed, along with the support of our physical and occupational therapist, that all factors into his remarkable recovery,” Dr. Jumean said.
“The physicians, the nurses, they were all awesome,” Botello said. “They listened to me. They really cared for me. Even when I was bedridden and had tubes everywhere, they made me feel like a person. I owe my life to them.”
Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute has a team of world-renowned affiliated cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, clinicians, researchers and educators are developing and perfecting innovative techniques that continue to put Memorial Hermann at the forefront of advancing heart health in Houston. Learn more about the conditions treated by our multidisciplinary cardiovascular teams or schedule an appointment with a cardiologist near you.