Ticking Heart Bombs

with Evert

World class senior tennis player, Evert Jonsson was taking a lesson from other top players, who recently had “heart surprises” and he went to get himself tested.  Only to get his own major surprise.  Here is his story with a lesson for the rest of us …

Learning From Friends

“Are we all ticking heart bombs like Frank Hagelshaw, Christer Holms and Fred Drilling?  Check into it! I did.

“Two years ago, Frank Hagelshaw had a triple bypass operation. His symptoms were chest pains after running.  Christer Holm (best overall age group player in Sweden with 104 national championships, the Jimmy Parker of Sweden) had heart problems and stent put in.

“This summer Fred Drilling had a quadruple bypass done. Fred had chest pain after 3 hours of tennis. He went to ER thinking he might have Covid. Full story in previous blog post (scroll down in earlier topics to “Medical Updates” July 12, 2020).  Fred’s cardiologist recommended that men like us to have a nuclear stress test to discover any potential blockage problems. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/nuclear-stress-test/about/pac-20385231

“Making a long story short, I went to my GP to get a nuclear stress test done but had to be referred to a cardiologist first. The cardiologist ordered Echocardiogram, CT calcium score, and bloodwork to check cholesterol.

“I’ve had high bad cholesterol LDL levels but my good cholesterol HDL (from exercise and healthy eating) has been very good.  The positive difference has been enough in my dialogue with GP that I have not taken drugs to lower the LDL levels. https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/ldl_hdl.htm

“Echocardiogram is an ultrasound checkup of the heart to check main blood flow and valve functions. The results were okay, even though a little leakage was noted (considering my age, not a serious problem).

The Big Surprise

“CT calcium score measures plaque (mainly bad cholesterol and calcium) buildup. Rates are from 0 (very good) and 400 is high and need attention.  Mine came in at 3,155!

“The doctor concluded I have Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), didn’t know how I was still walking around and stated unequivocally that I needed medication to lower LDL Cholesterol and control high blood pressure!


“My first thought – how do I have a heart problem given my exercising and eating healthy regimen?

“Second thought – how can it be this bad –  30 times above normal – and what does that mean?

“Main reasons for plaque buildup are:  genetics, age, gender (men more likely than women), smoking, diabetes, high LDL (bad) cholesterol, low HDL, and high blood pressure. Exercise and healthy eating are good only slowing the progression by increasing the good cholesterol HDL levels.

“I told the doctor I would go home, do some research and then call back. It only took me about 30 minutes online to learn that lowering the bad LDL cholesterol to around 50 was essential and that only a Statin drug (Atorvastatin or Crestor) would help do that.

“The CT Calcium score confirmed that I have significant plaque buildup (CAD) but it does not tell you where it is. It can be inside or outside the arteries.

“Next step either:

“I am now ready to have a discussion with my doc about what the next step should be to determine whether there are blockages.

“Will give you an update soon, I hope!  Evert”

We all should learn from this to avoid “surprises” and wish Evert well.  Anyone have experience with this issue?

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13 thoughts on “Ticking Heart Bombs

  1. From Anonymous: Thanks for telling this story . All of us who exercise daily and eat properly tend to think we must be OK . I have had the scan and insisted that my wife and kids get it as well . Will follow up with some of the additional recommendations .

  2. Friend John Owler suggested I get a Cat Scan Cardiac test (MRI which took only a few minutes) and a Calcium Score after Fred Drilling’s heart situation. I did and the findings proved interesting, following along Evert’s findings. Bottom line, for the $79 I spent the information was well worth while and at least provided a road map for what I should be doing to stop further build up of plaque in arteries, and associated eating habits for this and cholesterol.

    Howie, i too will get the Calcium scan (for the first time). Well worth the few bucks! thanks, george

  3. Had weight loss around the time of my left knee replacement in February. Went to
    family doctor in June and after running some tests, a CT Scan of the upper body
    revealed a good size ascending aortic aneurysm and nodules on my lungs. Went to
    Cleveland Clinic, main campus, for the aneurysm, no repair necessary, and will be going to the Moffitt Cancer center to check out the nodules. Either one can be serious or nothing at all.
    I was very impressed with the Cleveland Clinic, four tests, two doctors, and received the results immediately before we drove home. I would suggest to anyone with heart problems that the Cleveland Clinic is the place to go.

    Ron, thanks and be well! george

  4. George, thank you for posting this. Very timely.

    I have a routine visit with my GP/ Internist scheduled for new Tuesday AND a yearly visit with my Cardiologist the following week. You can be damn sure I will be asking a lot of questions of both during those visits.

    I already was able to lower my cholesterol tremendously using a statin, as well as get my BP under control using more medicine, following my “mini stroke” in March of 2019. (This is why I have the upcoming visits with the GP and Cardiologist scheduled already.) Based on my last round of tests, which were about 6 months back, I am in the “normal” range now for both LDL and HDL Cholesterol and BP.

    But I have always been worried about my heart itself and these recent events that have affected other in shape tennis players have certainly got me thinking that it would be wise to insist on more detailed testing, as your post suggests.

    Thank you my friend for looking out for all of us.

    Marty, if we spread the word and save “just one life,” … 🙂 george

  5. I have been playing tennis regularly since I was in high school. I am now 86. Three years ago I told my wife about 10:30PM that I was having a feeling like indigestion that I have never had before. She made me get in the car and took me to the emergency room. They immediately gave me an electrocardiograph that was perfectly normal but they wisely said they were going to keep me a little longer and check a blood sample. A while later they came back and said the blood check showed enzymes that indicated I may have had a mild heart attack. They admitted me to the hospital and the next morning did a heart Cath and installed two stents.
    After 30 days of monitored exercise at the hospital 3 days a week in their special program for heart patients they told me to go back to playing tennis and I have been playing regularly since. The message is that all senior tennis players should take the precautionary steps discussed by Evert Jonsson until they have the best assessment possible of the condition of their arteries and heart. It beats getting a surprise later that can be fatal.

    Floyd, great story and great advice! Thanks, george

  6. In 2019 during a hot humid day after 2 hours of tennis I got light headed and passed out. I was taken to ER and had a number of tests run. I got dehydrated and my blood pressure went to 90 over 60. I had similar episode, though not fainting, a few months later during a league match. Because I am one of those players who sweat a lot my cardiologist changed my blood pressure medication to make sure it would not go too low if I sweated and got dehydrated. He also had me do a echo cardiogram, 24 hour blood pressure monitor, and a heart cath. My heart function was close to normal, with only mild blockage, and my blood pressure was in the normal range. Those tests were repeated again this past month. I have had IVP’s (intermittent heart beats) for more then 20 years, which showed up in a stress test and echo. I have always had low cholesterol readings, however, my cardiologist put me on a statin anyway. He said low cholesterol would not necessarily guarantee not getting a heart attack but the use of a statin along with baby aspirin greatly helps prevent one from occurring. Since the change of blood pressure medication and the addition of a statin I have played regularly through this summer’s Florida humidity without feeling faint and tired. As we get older we definitely need to have yearly tests.

    Doug, amen… stay healthy! thanks for sharing. george

  7. Thanks for getting the warning out. Too many of us senior players think we are not vulnerable because we are active.
    I have been taking 10mg of Crestor for many years, my cardiologist wanted to be safe since my numbers were a little high. I just had bloodwork done on Monday and all is good including my A1C (the 3 month average)which at 5.4 (5.6 is good cutoff) is lower than it was a few years ago! My calcium score went from 0 in 2010 to 61 in 2018 and I was unhappy with that number. If Evert didn’t have a heart attack just seeing his number, good for him!! I’ve had the nuclear stress test as well as the basic stress test over the years. As they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”
    Thanks for the post.

    Steve, you could add a pound or two yourself! thanks. George

  8. Evert-
    I have had the same issue….the docs jumped up and down when my results came in at 1348…..my buddy here in Longboat has 3275…..I can’t take the usual statin because the thigh pain is hard to handle, but there’s a new class of statins out there now…..I’m taking Zetia, which is part of this new class, and it’s reduced my LDL from 100 to 57.
    BUT….if you look carefully at the research, there are some peculiar anomalies: much is made of absolute risk vs. relative risk…suggest you read up on this. The use of statins actually has only a marginal effect on strokes/heart attacks…..I know two docs who won’t take statins. If a stain lowers your chance of trouble from 2% to 1%, that’s a very small difference, but if you apply the “relative risk” formula, you’ve improved your chance of survival by 50%….sounds much better for pharma.
    The numbers are tricky. Good luck, John

    John, thanks for sharing this critical info. george

  9. I strongly recommend getting an appointment with a cardiologist, and have a complete heart workup. I did during the week of Christmas in 2014 because I had symptoms while playing tennis. My CT calcium score was well above what’s considered normal, and the heart cath showed major blockage. I was not allowed to leave the hospital. I had quadruple bypass surgery On Monday morning December 29, 2014. My surgery and recovery was successful, and I started rehab on February 5, 2015 at a heart rehab facility. I’m convinced my rehab is the reason I have not had any problems since my surgery. It consisted of 36 sessions specifically designed for me. After I finished my monitored rehab, I decided to continue working out at the facility because it is staffed with nurses and doctors. I am still going three times per week. Also, I started back playing tennis three months after my surgery. Most of us tennis players watch what we eat, exercise, and have regular check-ups. The one thing that we can’t change is genetics. My advise is get a complete heart workup.

    Billy, it always amazes me how some people skimp on the rehab… and then relapse. thanks, george

  10. I LOVE my cardiologist!….I was getting a little tired on the court about 10 years ago (back in Atlanta), so I had a stress test, and 3 hours later I was in the operating room getting a stent. Have felt good ever since, take my statin/cholesterol etc meds faithfully, but I sure love my Doctors! Scoot

    Scoot, i am truly amazed how many stories like that are out there among our “elite senior players”! thanks, george

  11. George, I had cardiac arrest on the tennis court a number of years ago. Fortunately for me, Naples pro Steve Vaughn was on the court next to me. He caught me before I fell, administered chest compressions, and revived me inside a minute. Hospital tests revealed I had blockage in my left descending artery (the widow maker). The Naples cardiologist (Dr Silvio Travalia ) inserted 2 stents. I now take a statin daily. Cholesterol is around 130 and blood work taken every 6 month looks good. I see a cardiologist every 6 months. We do a stress test every 2-3 years and an echocardiogram in between.

    Key learnings: Have bloodwork done routinely. Get a stress test. The Cadillac test for all this is a heart cath so if there are any questions at all get it done pronto! I think taking a statin helps too although it does have some side effects for me in my leg muscles. Not as fast as I used to be.

    Steve, i LOVE stories like this!! thanks, george

  12. I’m only alive today for two reasons … 1. Tennis (mostly) and racquetball and 2. Playing tennis within a five minute ambulance ride from a hospital. The primary event, a full-blown AMI (Acute Myocardial Infarction) occurred on Dec. 22nd, 2002. I would not have know I had an issue without the aerobic activity tennis provides. A stent, two days in the hospital, from which I escaped in spite of the cardiologist who did the procedure assuring me that I would still be there well after Christmas Day.

    So, about 4 years ago, again our wonderful sport of tennis saved me from the BIG ONE! Played on a hot Saturday here in Ohio and noticed what I thought felt like heartburn and it seemed to grow a bit more intense the more strenuous the point. My opponent wondered aloud “Should I take you to an emergency ward?” “Nah, I said, “I think it’s just heartburn.” The next day as the heartburn did more of what it had done the previous day, my buddy opponent, one Gary Englehard who just happened to have a career in the medical/pharmaceutical industry, encouraged me to get checked out. Taking his advice I called my cardiologist and scheduled an immediate stress test. Two stents later and a bit of rehab and back to tennis.

    Finally, a similar heartburn thing while playing racquetball about two years ago. Two more stents, one artery being about 99% blocked. I was a walking heart attack waiting to happen. (Oh yeah, and if I had listened to my Medicare Advantage company I would likely not be here today. They tried to tell me that a catheterization would not quality me for immediate approval for the procedure!!! Thank God my cardiologist told me how to overcome such a stupid denial on the part of my insurance company. I promised I wouldn’t share what he told me, but somehow I heard the words “Just go to the emergency room at about 7:30 tomorrow morning and tell them you’re having chest pains and they’ll call us and we’ll come and take care of it. I checked it out a found that the current record for number of stents in one body is fifteen. When I told my cardiologist I was going for sixteen he put me down with “Bernie, this is not a competition.” Shucks, I can think of no other way to get into the Guiness Book of World Records, so…

    Of course, I am very fortunate that the actual AMI I experienced took place in such close proximity to a hospital. I have long thought that had I been playing at some public park or private club in the middle of nowhere I’d likely not have survived it. Thanks to modern technology and docs who know what they’re doing I’m still here and hitting the little, fuzzy, yellow balls. Thanks to tennis we have an activity that can alert us. But, as seniors playing an aerobic sport, getting checked out with a cardiologist is a good idea. After all, I now know at least three or four people who found out they had a heart issue too late.
    Bottom line: They say we tennis players extend our life expectancy by up to nine-plus years. Well, tennis has extended mine by almost eighteen and I hope that’s disappointing anyone. So far, it hasn’t me. I’ve long said “Take me after I win a great point or match. Then spread my ashes on that court so people can tromp on me for eternity.” How does that saying go? “Beware what you wish for…something, something, something.”

    Bernie, 16 stents?!?! wow, that might be a record (PS i shortened the piece up a bit to fit). Thanks, george

  13. My heart story:
    All night 4 months ago I had strong abdominal pains. My 6:30 I was at emergency room with 3 people working on me. They
    Kept me busy all day with all sorts of tests. By 10 am my ab pains were gone. It was a hell of a physical exam. All they found
    with tethescope was a slight heart murmur. They explained it was caused by a slight leakage at one of my heart valves. That the blood flow should be laminar, but the leakage disturbs that. The cardio Doc wants to see me every 6 months to do some tests. If it continues to get worse, he does a miner operation going into the heart through the groin to fix. Heady stuff.
    I’m a 90 regularly playing singles and doubles and the few tournaments still with a 90’s bracket Anyone else having a murmur?
    George, what you are doing has helped my tennis a bunch. We owe you UNDYING gratitude. See you next year at Newk’s. Dick Eitel

    Dick, be well… and i hope to see you there for many more years! george

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