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Matters of the Heart

08/30/2013 02:36PM ● Published by Nancy Babin

January 15th began as any other day. I headed to my classroom full of 4th graders and my own boys were soon to follow: Tim dropping off our 11-year-old son, Jake, at school after a quick breakfast stop along the way. Tim planned to then head down to south Florida to sign a contract with a company that held promise within the convention industry. When I had kissed Tim goodbye that morning, I noticed a little sweat on his upper lip, which I dismissed as anticipation of this new chapter in his career.

I was in my classroom heading toward my door to monitor the ramp when the children alerted me that my cell was ringing. Odd - I only kept it on when Tim had travel days without me...he seemed to tire more quickly...

I answered to the tightened voice of my son saying, "Mom, it's Dad. He's not feeling well...laid down on the bathroom floor...really tired..." All evidence stacked up at that moment. I said, “Okay, Son, I'm calling 911. You unlock the door and get ready for the ambulance. Good job!”

I turned to my students, pointed to one table and said, “Call the front office and say I need someone to come cover my room.” The children sprang into action. The rest became a blur...the concerned face of one of the girls...our bookkeeper, Betty Jo, running to cover for me, the assistant principal, Shelley, running by my side...driving home…passing the ambulance...seeing Jake in my hurry darting right past Tim sitting in his leather chair as I dashed to the bathroom...Shelley saying, “Gina, he's here!” I felt a cautioned sense of relief that he was with us...he's still here, my bear, how long had it been?

The paramedics were completely calm and in charge checking Tim's vitals, reassuring us, asking questions I mostly can't saying that's not aspirin... Jake and Shelley in the background steadying the spinning ground. Tim being strapped to the gurney, asking about going to Sacred Heart where I had my foot surgeries, the paramedics saying no, you’ve had a heart attack…it is the Heart Center at Fort Walton Beach. I tried not to calculate how long that trip would take.

The next thing I recall is heading over the Destin bridge trailing the ambulance. Once in admissions we were praying and waiting to hear the word on Tim. The FWB staff was clear and consistent with their updates which gave me comfort and, initially, all reports seemed to show progress. Shelley and I decided it best for her to take Jake back to school so we could remove him from the high-stress environment, so they headed back to Destin. No sooner had they set out than the next report was that Tim's situation had become critical and I was called back to a tiny room.

It was in that tiny space where I came to understand the literal meaning of a “come to Jesus” moment. It was there I met the surgeons, there I was told to get someone by my side. Initially they had been just looking for an undamaged artery, but there were complications...the damage had occurred at a “v” in the arterial was here, the surgeons explained, that their next attempt, to take an artery from his leg and replace the damaged mitral valve with a mechanical one, is most often fatal. I asked for a statistic...something to grasp...they said maybe a 25% chance...I asked if I could hold Tim's hand...I explained we are a team. They gently said no, and I knew this was my last chance to let these men understand who they were healing, that it wasn't just my husband's life they held in their hands.

I said this is not just another patient...this is a father who needs to finish raising his 11-year-old boy. I asked them to find a way, think outside the box to make it happen! I kept thinking they can't let him go; losing him can't be an option. Somewhere we ended with it being in their hands...that kind-faced surgeon reminded me it was in God's hands. This brought a flush of relief...of course, after being raised in a home of great prayer, I was for a moment leaning only on intellect and expertise. Now my prayers became increasingly fervent.

The surgeons would have to wait. They had thinned Tim's blood for the initial attempts, but now they must wait until that wore off and they could stop his heart to make this final attempt...this was beyond what I could bear. Next, people were arriving…my family from Destin Elementary gathered and surrounded me with their love, comfort, and support. They waited with me and thought of the many logistics to accommodate our incoming family. They were my rock and were praying back at the school on our behalf.

When the doctors came to report they had managed to successfully implant the micro valve, words can't reflect the joy and then exhaustion I felt. The concentration of balancing faith with logic had taken its toll. In the next breath, Dr. Sandwith warned we were not out of the woods. We had come through the initial critical step, but the next 72 hours and overcoming the three “Bs” were a must: bleeding, brain function, and breathing.

Tim was happy to get out of the hospital and home before his family left to return to Ohio. The first few days were the most challenging because sleep took careful positioning. We worked to eliminate the salt in his diet and to balance his consumption of Vitamin K, found in deep leafy greens, which counteracts the Warfarin/Coumadin that keeps his blood thin enough to pass by the mechanical valve. He was happy to be back in his favorite leather chair, and in the comforts of family and home.

Now, here we are, six months later, and Tim, who they call the “miracle man,” is progressing beautifully! As I write this, he and my son are refurbishing a bicycle to take to Cleveland for our next visit.

This staff at the FWB Heart Clinic was professional, compassionate, and remarkably effective. They married honesty with faith and humility to work together to give my husband, Jake's daddy, another chance to continue to raise his son. Our family is deeply grateful to the surgeons: Dr. Sandwith, Dr. Katzenstein, Dr. Givens and Dr. Gilmore, along with Danielle Jordan and Matt Edwardson in CVICU. Their team has created a safety net for Destin, FWB, and all surrounding areas. Who would have imagined we would have left the vast opportunity of choices in Atlanta to find this precious gem right here on the Emerald Coast!

What Happens Before, During and After a Heart Attack

The heart muscle requires a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood to nourish it. The coronary arteries provide the heart with this critical blood supply. If they become damaged, they narrow, and blood cannot flow as well as it should. This is called coronary heart disease (CHD).

Plaque builds up in the arteries, cracks, and then platelets come to the area and form blood clots around the plaque. If a blood clot completely blocks the artery, the heart muscle becomes "starved" for oxygen. Within a short time, death of heart muscle cells occurs, causing permanent damage. This is a heart attack.

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

Discomfort, pressure, heaviness or pain in the chest, arm, or below the breastbone

Discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat, or arm

Fullness, indigestion, or a choking feeling (may feel like heartburn)

Sweating, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness

Extreme weakness, anxiety, or shortness of breath

Rapid or irregular heartbeats

At the first sign of a heart attack, call 9-1-1. Don’t wait. Each year, about 1.2 million people in the United States have heart attacks, and many of them die. Many more people could have survived or recovered better from heart attacks had they gotten help faster. Jake’s quick phone call to his mother, and her calm instructions to him to dial 9-1-1, played a big role in saving Tim’s life.

An emergency care team will ask about the symptoms and begin to evaluate the patient. Treatment to open the blocked artery begins immediately - possibly in the ambulance or emergency room – and is essential to lessen the amount of damage. The best time to treat a heart attack is within one to two hours of the first onset of symptoms. Waiting longer increases the damage to the heart and reduces the chance of survival.

Healing of the heart muscle begins soon after a heart attack and takes about eight weeks.

Preventing a Heart Attack

Lowering your risk factors for CHD can help prevent a heart attack. Even if you already have CHD, you can still take steps to lower your risk for a heart attack.

Following a healthy diet is an important part of a heart healthy lifestyle. A healthy diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It also includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, and fat-free or low-fat milk or milk products. A healthy diet is low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium (salt), and added sugars.

If you're overweight or obese, work with your doctor to create a reasonable weight-loss plan that involves diet and physical activity. 

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