33 Stents and Counting

My heart trouble started in 1997, when I was 50. Driving to work with my wife, Gerri, one morning, I stopped at a convenience store for coffee. Suddenly I started to get chest pains and could not breathe very well. I told Gerri and said I would drive to the hospital, but within 30 seconds, I got out and let her drive the 15 minutes to the hospital. When we got there, Gerri ran into the emergency room screaming, “Help! My husband is having a heart attack!”

When they asked how she knew that, she started yelling and cursing, and I lay on the floor in pain, but was also laughing because that’s what keeps me going — a sense of humor. They gave me something for pain. My left anterior descending artery — the one some call the widow maker — was 99 percent closed. I had my first heart cath. One year later, I had more chest pains and two more stents were placed. When it seemed that stents had caused scarring, I had a triple bypass.

A few years later, my cardiologist told me about some research trials for occluded stents. Since I was having chest pains again, I went and received another four stents and felt great. But three weeks later, I was back there with chest pains. Out of 200 people in the trial, only two of us closed back up, but they opened the closed stents and I returned home.

The following year, I had a double bypass and had to stop working and go on disability. Six months later, I could tell the stents were closing again — I had figured out that for me, their closing was accompanied by a sharp pain in my left ear. At the hospital, I was told the stents had, in fact, closed again. This happened at least 10 more times. A year later, I had more chest pains and my armpits were turning black [something that can happen for some with diabetes]. After they checked me out, I was taken by air ambulance to Keck Hospital at the University of Southern California. This time they replaced my aortic valve with a pig valve and fixed another blockage.

I felt great for about a year, then I had more chest pains and more stents. I have had four heart attacks, more than 60 heart caths and 33 stents, and I’m still here. I just had another bout with the worst chest pains I’ve ever had. My heart was beating over 200 beats a minute and my blood pressure was very high.

My cardiologist is great and has kept me going all these years. I just turned 69. I still have chest pains; if I walk up stairs, I have to stop and spray my peripheral. I take many pills twice a day. I watch my diet, but I can’t exercise. I also have diabetes, peripheral neuropathy and benign essential tremor. Gerri has saved my life many times, and my family is very supportive. What gets me through is a positive attitude and a good sense of humor. When I go in for anything, I don’t worry about it. Whatever happens, I know that between God and my doctor, they’ve got me covered.

Our HeartFelt department highlights our readers’ experiences with heart disease from their own perspective. We’re always looking for contributions, so please send us yours. Before submitting, please review our Writer’s Guidelines.

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