When even vague symptoms become chronic, it's a good idea to pay attention. That's a lesson Crest Hill resident Kenneth Fisher, 60, won't easily forget. For more than nine months, starting in early 2013, he ignored a somewhat tight feeling in his chest during exercise, and a tendency to tire easily. By fall of that year, an additional symptom joined the mix.
"I felt like an electrical charge was going down my arm to my wrist," he recalls.
But he discounted his symptoms as mere signs of stress. His wife, Maureen, had just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and that was his main concern.
Given his new symptom, Maureen insisted he visit her parents’ family practitioner, Lilia Protaziuk, MD, a family medicine physician with Edward Medical Group in Plainfield. Fisher completed a physical, which included a health history (he was a non-smoker); blood work, which showed normal lipid levels and an EKG (electrocardiogram), which the doctor described as "perfect."
Despite these favorable indications, Dr. Protaziuk says, "While some may have sent Kenneth home at this point, I felt he should still have a stress test."
Dr. Protaziuk soon received a call from Mark Duerinck, MD, a cardiologist with Midwest Heart-Advocate Medical Group, telling her that Fisher's stress test was highly abnormal.
"Two minutes into the stress test I knew I couldn't continue,” says Fisher. “When it was over, Dr. Duerinck told Maureen and me we needed to head to the hospital so I could get an angiogram."
The angiogram, which was done that afternoon by interventional cardiologist Stanislaw Skaluba, MD, also of Midwest Heart-Advocate Medical Group, showed blockage in all the main coronary arteries, including a 99 percent blockage in the LAD (left anterior descending) artery. This kind of blockage is called the "widowmaker" because heart attacks associated with it are often fatal.
The next day, Fisher underwent triple bypass surgery at Edward Hospital, performed by heart surgeon Bryan Foy, MD, medical director of cardiac surgery at Edward Heart Hospital and cardiothoracic surgeon with Cardiac Surgery Associates.
"The doctors all told me I was lucky to be alive,” says Fisher. “I'm glad Dr. Protaziuk felt we should do a stress test. It's really good to have someone paying attention and not just ignoring your concerns."
Since the surgery, Fisher has gone through cardiac rehab, returned to work and enjoyed a walking-intensive trip to Paris with his wife, whose cancer has responded well to chemotherapy.
He says, "I've had no ill effects and feel better than ever."
Coronary artery disease can result from inflammation or from a plaque build-up in the arteries that decreases the flow of blood to the heart. Some common symptoms include chest pressure or pain, shortness of breath, or extreme fatigue following activity or stress. Heart attacks can occur when a coronary artery is completely blocked.
Visiting your primary care physician (PCP) regularly can help you track and manage your critical numbers, such as blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose. Your PCP also can provide education about lifestyle changes that can help keep your heart healthy.
"I would encourage everybody to have regular check-ups,” says Fisher. “And, it's really important to see your doctor if you’re having symptoms."
If you think you're having a heart attack, call 911.
To find out if you’re at risk for heart disease, take Edward-Elmhurst Health’s free five-minute test at www.EEHealth.org/HealthAware. For more information about Edward-Elmhurst Health cardiac care, visit www.EEHealth.org/Heart.