Cardiologist’s heart attack serves as cautionary tale for others

Local News

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Imagine having a heart attack out of the blue. Now, imagine having a heart attack out of the blue, and you’re a cardiologist. That was a very real scenario for a Parkview Health doctor nearly four years ago. He shares his story now as a cautionary tale for others.

Dr. William Wilson has been a cardiologist at Parkview Health for more than 30 years. He loves his job. It’s something different every day. Whether he’s making rounds and visiting patients, spending time in the clinic, or heading off to an outlying clinic, this doctor is by all accounts an active man. Plus, he exercises regularly.

He never expected on January 22, 2018, that he would suffer from the exact thing he treats every day.

That day started like any other. Dr. Wilson had accompanied his wife to the gym, though he admittedly wasn’t planning to do any strenuous activity.

“I was just going to hang out, that day I didn’t even go to exercise,” he said. “And I was there, just messing around waiting for [his wife]. I read a book, then I actually got on the stair master.”

After a short stint on the machine, Dr. Wilson hopped off, and that’s when he felt it.

“I started having chest pain, just out of the blue. I was walking around, it’s not like I was exercising hard or anything like that, people assume that because I happened to be at the gym,” he said. “Immediately I knew what it was because it’s my work, it’s my job to know what the symptoms are supposed to be like.”

It was a heart attack, and he knew it. And like many people who experience the same thing, he wasn’t quick to accept it.

“I wandered around for 5 to 10 minutes in denial. I kind of knew what it was, but it was like ‘this can’t be happening to me.'”

He was experiencing many of the classic symptoms: chest pain, sweating, loss of color, pain the jaw, neck and teeth, and a sudden urge to use the bathroom.

“It’s not uncommon for people to get pulled out of a bathroom, either their own bathroom or at a restaurant or something like that,” he said. “And so here I am in this bathroom at the gym, and I was just scared to death. I was like ‘I’m gonna die in the bathroom, and no one is gonna know.’”

Finding the strength he needed in that moment, and coming to terms with what was happening, Dr. Wilson pulled himself form the bathroom and tracked down his wife.

Dr. Wilson in the hospital

“She has been with all these years, for 35 years, she’s used to me getting called in the middle of the night and getting up real fast, and getting in the car real fast, and going to take care of a heart attack. So she knows the drill.”

The hospital knew he was coming and Dr. Wilson was on the cath table at least 10 minutes after arriving. One of his partners from the Parkview Heart Institute placed a stent and he spent the night in the hospital.

“I was fortunate because my heart attack was due to what’s called plaque rupture – a majority are caused by this.”

He described in detail what that means. Plaque – or areas in the arteries that are filled with fatty deposits like cholesterol – builds up over time and can tear or rupture. When that happens, the circulating blood hits the plaque and has a tendency to clot in the artery. If it’s a small heart attack, it’s usually a partial clot. If it’s a big heart attack, the blood clot will totally block the artery and interrupt the blood flow to the area.

“The heart muscles are very sensitive to blood flow, and if it goes without blood flow for longer than about 5 to 10 minutes then the heart muscle starts to die. That’s a heart attack,” he explained “So when I say I was fortunate, it’s because my artery was totally blocked at some point when the pain was severe. I noticed a kind of lessening of the pain on my way to the hospital. I think -of course I’ll never know -I think the artery was kind of opening and closing which is good because that meant it limits the amount of heart damage – that’s what we try to do when we put in a stent or a balloon.”

Dr. Wilson knew he had to get the hospital quick. He emphasized that time is important for any person who suffers a heart attack.

“Time is very critical and if you have symptoms like this, even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, but you think it might be and it’s very severe discomfort and you’ve never had it before, you better get it checked out and get it checked out right now.”

In the nearly 4 years since his heart attack, Dr. Wilson cracked down on his diet. He also does less weight lifting and more cardio exercise. And another big change – he’s on medication.

“Before my heart attack I wasn’t on any medicine and it’s been good for me because I can identify more with my patients,” he said. “They have to take medicine and I want them to take their medicine so I often times say ‘that’s what I take, I take it, you can too.’”

Dr. Wilson shares his story as a way to help people understand what a heart attack is, and his story proves it can happen to anyone.

“Not only am I a cardiologist, but I was in good shape. My cholesterol wasn’t high and I was taking no medications for cholesterol.”

HEART ATTACK SYMPTOMS:

  • Chest discomfort – Dr. Wilson says the most common description is an oppressive, heavy, squeezing discomfort located in the middle of the chest.
  • Jaw and neck pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold, heavy sweat
  • Nausea and lightheadedness
  • Sudden urge to use the bathroom

Silent heart attacks can happen too, where the patient feels no symptoms. That’s most prevalent in patients with diabetes, says Dr. Wilson.

HEART ATTACK PREVENTION:

  • Research family history
  • Maintain a heart healthy diet – the Mediterranean diet is recommended by the American College of Cardiologists
  • Maintain an ideal body weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Do not smoke cigarettes
  • Get treatment for high cholesterol and high blood pressure

DR. WILSON’S ADVICE ON STATINS AND ASPIRIN:

Dr. Wilson also addressed what he calls misperceptions about a class of medicines called ‘statins’ that are prescribed to people who’ve suffered a heart attack. The misperceptions, he says, are that statins cause dementia, diabetes, liver failure, and other ailments.

Here’s Dr. Wilson’s response:

“You won’t find a card-carrying cardiologist that will not prescribe a statin to somebody who has had a heart attack. It’s that important. We tend to be very pro-statin. If you’ve had a heart attack, or you’ve had a stent, or you’ve had bypass surgery or something like that, I guarantee you that your doctor will want you to be on a statin.”

Dr. William Wilson

According to the Mayo Clinic, statins are drugs that can lower your cholesterol. Dr. Wilson says cardiologist don’t prescribe it because of your cholesterol, but instead because it has very good effects on the arteries, the lining of the arteries, and the stent.

He also took an opportunity to clarify some recent studies about aspirin and the heart. For years, it has been recommended that everybody take a baby aspirin every day to prevent heart attacks. But several recent studies announced that people no longer need to do that, with the conclusions being that the risk of taking aspirin – with respect to bleeding from the Gastrointestinal (GI) tract – was greater than the benefit. The problem, he says, is that the studies only looked at people who didn’t have heart disease.

“Our office gets inundated with calls from our patients, most of whom have heart disease, and they say ‘hey, can I stop my aspirin, because I saw the front page of the paper that says you’re not recommending aspirin anymore.’ And we have to say ‘no no no, don’t stop your aspirin because in patients with heart disease, that hasn’t changed, we still recommend aspirin for those people.”

If you have heart disease, Dr. Wilson still recommends you take a baby aspirin every day.

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