Having a Heart Attack?

Young Woman Performing Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Supreme senior athlete Fred Drilling ending up having QUADRUPLE heart bypass surgery raises the key question for all of us: what are the signs and what should you do about it?

Fred Says …

“It started last Saturday morning playing dubs with Gagnon, Landauer, and Vandenberg. Had a burning sensation in my lungs for 15-20 seconds. That was the 3rd game; so finished 3 sets. It came back the next day in the afternoon at a restaurant. Would come and go and when I got home, it was mostly staying with me.

“The next afternoon at a restaurant, it started coming back just a little bit at a time and by the time I got home it was pretty strong. I knew I had never felt anything quite like that, so I decided to go to the ER. Pretty good decision on my part. Most of my decisions are not that good.”

American Heart Association Says …

According to the AHA, “Don’t wait to get help if you experience any of these heart attack warning signs. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. But most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Pay attention to your body and call 911 if you experience:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes – or it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

  • Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.

  • Other signs. Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.”

    Update From Fred… “I came home yesterday afternoon and I’m feeling amazingly well. Chest only hurts when I do certain things using my arms.  Have a nurse and a physical therapist coming today I think for 2 or 3 days.  Breathing exercises are mostly what I’m supposed to be doing. “

My Frustration…

What gets me is the “surprise” aspect of all this.  How does a guy like Fred, who I watched in the last tournament of the senior season in St. Pete as he played a grueling three set singles match vs. Steve Lunsford and then a doubles match … and then the next day play a grueling three set singles match vs. Don Long and then another doubles match … how does an athlete like that end up with three arteries blocked at 70%, 80% and “the widow-maker” at 90%??

And how does a youngish billionaire like Steve Jobs suddenly get diagnosed with terminal stage 4 Pancreatic cancer?  What happened to stages 1, 2, and 3?

My point is, as advanced as we are in today’s medical science, why aren’t there more “early warning” tests that can be taken to help us catch these problems before they become life-threatening or life-taking?

The old sports adage is “listen to your body”; but is that enough?

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13 thoughts on “Having a Heart Attack?

  1. Not a doc George but the genes definitely play a big role here. A friend of mine, an oncologist says it’s all about genetics. My dad always said two things. 1) “When your number is up… it’s up! ” and 2) “None of us are gettin outta here alive”!

    Jim, sad, but true (unless you take action, like Fred did … and a good friend who “died” on the tennis court and is still around to tell the story). george

  2. It certainly is concerning when someone who “seemed” as healthy as Fred has that happen to him! It should make all of us become a little more aware of our own bodies and also to continue taking preventative tests and have regular doctors visits no matter how healthy we THINK we are. So glad Fred will live to tell the tale!

    Steve, and will live to beat me many more times! george

  3. There are multiple factors involved in causation of cardiovascular disease including exercise, diet, heredity and stress.
    Moderate amounts of exercise weekly and a diet low in saturated fats are helpful. Heredity is something over which we have no control. Stress needs to be managed by avoiding stressful situations as much as possible, meditation, deep breathing exercises, etc.
    We have to learn moderation in all things, which is sometimes difficult for avid athletes.
    For seniors, it is important to have regular stress tests at the cardiologist every few years. With any of the symptoms described above it is imperative to see a physician as soon as possible.
    I have been on the court with several friends, on different occasions, who were having chest discomfort symptoms and were refusing to go to the emergency room despite my urging. We are all stubborn when it comes to our potential frailty. It turned out that all of them were having heart attacks. Early intervention is essential.

    Doc, i was with you when one of our friends resisted us calling 911 (and was having a heart attack!). Thanks, george

  4. Not sure I agree with Jim’s dad. Fred’s number could have been up but he had the wherewithal to go to ER and was able to catch that number before it came up!

    Ken, yup, as Fred said earlier, he doesn’t always make the right choices; but he did that time! Thanks, george

  5. News Note: Novak Djokovic has tested positive for the coronavirus after taking part in a tennis exhibition series he organized in Serbia and Croatia.

    The top-ranked Serb is the fourth player to test positive for the virus after first playing in Belgrade and then again last weekend in Zadar, Croatia.

    His wife also tested positive.

  6. Many of us don’t know when our arteries are blocked….in a large number of cases, there are no symptoms…..remember Jim Fixx?
    One test that’s used to detect blockage is the CT Calcium test for the arteries leading to the heart….it measures the extent of plaque buildup in the arteries. It’s a marker that can be useful in predicting future blockages. If your score is high, there are remedies that can be taken early on before any symptoms reveal themselves.

    John, i will ask my Doc! thanks, george

  7. Very good advise and perspective…But sometimes you don’t get a warning. I experienced a cardiac arrest at age 55 with no initial warning. I was in very good shape – playing tennis regularly with no underlying heart disease. They discovered a gene issue (hereditary but dormant for my whole life) that created a life threatening arrhythmia. In cases like this, you must call 911 immediately, start CPR and/or locate/apply an AED device to restore a normal heart rhythm. You have 5-10 min. max. before it’s too late. I survived, (very fortunate) and am playing tennis again after an ICD was inserted in my chest…I’m still here because my friends acted very quickly.

    Dan, i bet you appreciate every day now, more than ever! thanks, george

  8. Too often, men especially, are “macho” and in denial. Despite key coronary risk factors being favorable (BP, cholesterol, exercise, weight, never smoked) when I’d passed age 70 but still wanted to pursue tournament singles competition, six years ago, I elected to get a coronary artery calcium scan, which only took 15 minutes and cost about $125. I was shocked to learn I had an extensive build up in my coronary arteries, but began statins for cholesterol and, fortunately, had a favorable stress echocardiogram and resolved thereafter to “listen” to my body. Next 5 years all good with tournament singles. In January I missed the Naples, Fl tournaments due to a “medical adventure”. I was making multiple trips up the stairs with luggage and groceries on about the 8th trip noticed a telltale pressure like a fist squeezing directly under my breast bone, plus a mild wider unusual chest discomfort (but only a 2/3 out of 10 on the pain scale. It went away after 15-20 seconds of rest. But it recurred again with similar activity and again the next day. I went to the ER at NCH hospital Friday pm and on Monday had a heart cath showing 99% blockage of the “widow- maker” but luckily and thankfully no infarction or heart damage. A stent reduced the blockage to “zero” percent per the cardiologist who did the procedure. With the doc’s OK I was back to “light” tennis a week later and also successfully “graduated” from cardiac rehab after 12 sessions. A number of other men there had instead experienced only shortness of breath while walking, etc., instead.
    We must all “PAY ATTENTION”. From “The most happy fella”
    P.S. – My dad had a heart attack in the same part of “the widow maker” at age 75 but survived until age 99 and was still playing doubles at age 96.

    Dag, great story and great lesson! thanks, george

  9. First, my best wishes to Fred for a speedy recovery. There is no doubt that a world class athlete is up to the task. But here is a partial answer to “we don’t get an early warning about these things”. The truth is, we do, but it creeps up on you. Back on March 22, I arranged for Willy Hoffman’s Sunday group to play at Sterling Oaks because the Pelican Landing courts had closed. Fred played that day. My wife and I were watching (I was on injured reserve) and both of us noticed that Fred seemed tired. He even complained about it a little on a couple of changeovers but obviously didn’t think it was serious enough to check out. (Of course, who wanted to go to the doctor at that time?) I can tell you from experience that you may feel a little tired, but as you start playing, your blood vessels dilate and adrenalin kicks in, and maybe you don’t feel so bad after all.

    Regarding symptoms, here is my experience from many years ago. In 2005, at the age of 49, I was walking around Amsterdam with my family. After awhile, I started feeling tired and my left arm was so weak that I put my hand in my pocket to support the weight of my arm. I also had a little pain in my left shoulder blade, but I never had chest pain. I went back to the hotel and took an aspirin. I was fine for about a week and then the same thing happened while walking in Paris, only worse. Long story, long (sorry), I came back home to have my procedure. They found an almost total blockage of my widow maker (LAD), but my body had grown its own bypass (collateral flow, which apparently is not uncommon). Two stents later I was as good as new and played six days afterwards. Eight months prior to this experience I had done a stress test which showed no issues. A nuclear stress test showed the problem plain as day. The moral is, even preventive testing isn’t 100%. We just have to listen to our bodies and get our regular checkups.

    Sorry for the length. Feel free to edit.

    Jim, the message is worth every word you wrote! thanks, george

  10. Having had a quad bypass 21 years ago, I understand why many of us “athletes” don’t believe we are having a heart attack. Flying back from Istanbul, I could not swallow – had tightness in the jaw – was having a heart attack without knowing it until confirmed the next day in the ER. Testing revealed I had other heart attacks in the past but as a tennis player in good condition, I never thought my chest pains were anything serious. Bottom line, if you get medical help at first signs you can minimize heart muscle damage. I ignored the signs when in my 20s and 30s and now live with permanent heart damage that limits endurance on the courts. My advice is simple: If you hear a knock in your engine, see a mechanic before the engine blows up.

    Bob, great analogy! thanks, george

  11. Jim, I had forgotten about that incident but do remember it now that you remind me. It definitely could have been a notifier.
    Thanks, Fred

  12. At the risk of sounding too “holistic”, I have done two things for many years to do as much as possible to prevent a heart attack. Believe it or not, Transcendental Meditation has been totally endorsed by the American Medical Association with many studies to prove the rest it gives the heart especially if you practice it twice a day which I have been doing for 50 years. Anyone can go to tm.org to get access to the many studies . Also a company which I am not involved in business wise called “Synergy” has a product called “ProArgi9 ” which is especially a combination of LArginine and LCitroline (the latter being crucial for the Larginine to work} . There have also been many studies on how it clears the arteries. I cannot tell you how many people I know who were scheduled for a stint and started that product and had their pre exam prior to the operation and the Doctor was absolutely shocked that the person no longer needed a stint. I have always been thinking prevention as opposed to having to end up doing something at the last minute.

    Dave, you are right on with doing things to relieve stress… and TM is surely one of them. Another would be to remove yourself from situations AND people who cause stress in you. thanks, george

  13. I had quadruple heart bypass surgery on December 29, 2014. I am an active tennis player, and I averaged playing five times per week. I started having minor symptoms about 6 months before I had surgery. Mine started with a burning sensation in my chest more so than severe pain. After about four months, I was playing with a Doctor and I told him about my symptoms. He suggested I make an appointment with my family doctor. After discussing this with my doctor, he started treating me for acid reflux. There is a form of acid reflux caused by exercise. The medication he gave me did not make any difference so he said let’s rule out any heart problems. He sent me to a cardiologist and he started the battery of test which included the calcium test, echo cardiogram, nuclear stress test, and last but not least the heart cath. The heart cath showed major blockage that could not be fixed with stents. My blockage was so bad I could not leave the hospital. Had surgery on Monday morning December 29. I did very well due to the fact I was in great shape from playing tennis. The surgeon released with on February 4, 2015, and I started heart rehab at a heart rehab facility. I was back playing tennis in three months. I still work out three days/week at the heart rehab facility that is staffed with nurses and doctors. They keep a chart of my blood pressure, oxygen level, and pulse. The moral of my story is go see your doctor if you have any symptoms and get a complete heart workup including a heart cath. After you get the go ahead from you doctor, start back playing tennis. After all it is the game for a lifetime.

    Billy, you hit the key point … early detection + early action! thanks, george

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