Survivor of ‘widow maker’ heart attack shares story

By Natasha Barrett

At 39 years old, Will had three marathons under his belt and was actively training for his fourth. Running long distance kept him healthy and, so he thought, would help him fight off heart disease, which ran in his family.

“My father passed almost 23 years ago at age 51. I do have heart issues on both sides of my family,” said Will.

One day while at home, Will started experiencing some alarming symptoms.

“I was having like a tightness in my chest, and I felt that my heartbeat was way too high for what I was doing. And I could barely run 100 yards before having to stop,” he said.

Will shared his symptoms with his girlfriend who is a nurse. She urged him to see a doctor.

During that doctor visit, Will received some shocking news from Memorial Hermann  cardiologist Dr. Jianwei Feng.

“I found out that I had a major blockage. Three of the four arteries in my heart were 85 to 90 percent blocked. Because of my age, my body figured out a way to get the blood where it needed to go, and I literally had absolutely no idea,” Will said. “This happened on a Monday and they said, you’re not leaving this hospital, you’re having surgery on Tuesday. I was absolutely shocked.”

The CT scan of his heart showed significant blood vessel damage. Typically open heart surgery would be needed to cure Will, but he was relieved that his surgeon was able to place three stents through his femoral artery.

“One of the blockages that I had is called the widow-maker, and it’s in the left ventricle. They call it the widow-maker because if nobody is there to give you CPR, adios,” Will explained.

Dr. Feng says Will’s case is a perfect example of why you have to take heart disease seriously, especially if you have a family history.

“Particularly if there is a family member who died or had a heart attack before the age of 55 for a man or woman before the age of 60,” Dr. Feng said. “This is a significant risk factor we need to keep in mind, and even the very basic treadmill exercise that will prevent certain people suffering from sudden cardiac death.”

Dr. Feng says you can help prevent heart disease by eating a healthy diet with few processed foods, keeping track of  your blood pressure numbers, relieving stress, and exercising at least 45 minutes a day. In fact, he suggests we all think of exercise as medicine.

Will says he feels lucky to be alive. He has a piece of advice for everyone when it comes to heart disease.

“If you have a weird feeling, don’t put it off,” Will said. “Get it checked out. Don’t be scared to go to the doctor.”

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