Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This blog was first published on March 4, 2018.
The progression of safe and common heart procedures and new equipment and technology is amazing. Almost 20 years ago I had a heart attack while giving a speech about heart healthy foods. Did I have any warning? Yes. Six weeks before that I had similar chest pain while boarding a plane to visit my children and grandchildren. The pain went away after a few minutes but it left me tired and with a sore chest. I did nothing about it even though I had suffered with and was in treatment for atrial fib. You can read the whole story IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups and Downs of Life with Arial Fib, a memoir. Click here.
Besides being stupid about the initial chest pain episode, I was lucky even though I was halfway across the country at the time. My thinking was that it was a new wrinkle in my long history of atrial fib. Then I was told that atrial fib had nothing to do with the heart attack.
Now research has discovered that everything including atrial fib has to do with heart attacks: thyroid disease, diabetes, smoking, diet, exercise, gender and genetics. Care and condition of teeth, blocked arteries of the eyes and, of course the biggie…stress. All of this including medications have major impact on heart disease.
The heart is a complicated organ. Twenty years ago it was discovered that my heart attack was caused by a blockage in the major artery on the outside of the heart sometimes referred to as ‘the widow maker.’ Actually it’s the left anterior descending artery. I was scheduled for open heart surgery, but because it was a single artery bypass and in location of easy access, I was a candidate for a then new surgery developed by Dr. Randall Wolf. He was on loan to OSU, a teaching hospital, to instruct his procedure to other endoscopic coronary surgeons for a less invasive bypass surgery.
Instead of ‘open heart’, a small incision was made under the left breast and a robot was inserted tying off the mammary artery to bypass the blockage. It didn’t take long and I was home 2 days later.
Now 20 years later the robotic heart surgery has held and I have improved my lifestyle by weight loss, healthy diet, careful attention to my meds, a dedicated exercise program and marrying Ed.
It appears that the robotic heart bypass has in part been replaced by the stent, but 20 years ago there was something similar called the ‘balloon’ to clear the arteries. My cardiologist at the time told me that the artery blockage I had was filled with ‘junk’—a combination of calcium, plaque, cholesterol and ‘stuff’ that may have been accumulating since I was a teenager.
A few years ago an echo cardiogram revealed that I have no evidence of any heart damage from my heart attacks. I am told that eliminating that muscle damage is rare. I see its success from my lifestyle changes, especially exercise.