After Heart Attack, a Second Chance

Every day clinicians and patients at Rush face moments of great challenge and great inspiration. During this time of giving thanks, they’re sharing what they are thankful for and how their experiences at Rush have inspired them. 

Gary Schaer, MD

By Gary Schaer, MD

Heart disease is not a death sentence. Even if you’ve survived a heart attack, proper medical therapy and lifestyle modifications can allow you to have an excellent quality of life — and a long life. Surviving a heart attack can be a second chance.

Recently, I cared for a previously healthy, 42-year-old firefighter who came in after having a cardiac arrest in the field. His fellow firefighters brought him to Rush University Medical Center, and he arrested again upon his arrival. He was having a heart attack and we took him directly to the cardiac catheterization lab to fix a severely blocked artery.

When I came out of the cath lab to tell his wife that he was going to be fine, there were at least 20 firefighters and police officers waiting outside. I’d never seen anything like it. I walked through the parting huddle of police officers and firefighters all looking very grim, and they pointed me to his wife, who was stricken and expecting the worst. When I said he would be fine, she hugged me and the firefighters introduced me to his young son. It was wonderful to be able to deliver good news about a young guy with so much potential, so much life ahead of him and so many people caring and depending on him. I was pretty choked up by the whole thing.

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An Aspiring Surgeon’s ‘Life-Changing Experience’

By Taylor Bacon

Last September I became involved in the Mikva Challenge, a civic program that challenges high school students throughout Chicago to be active participants in the political process through elections, activism and policy-making programs. I had been a part of a couple of their projects when I was offered the opportunity to come to a gathering of local leaders. I met a number of fascinating people including Jaime Parent, vice president and associate chief information officer of Information Technology Operations at Rush University Medical Center. I mentioned my longstanding ambition to be a pediatric surgeon and he generously offered to set up a meeting between Dr. Ziyad Hijazi, one of the world’s premier interventional cardiologists, and me.

I can honestly say the meeting with Dr. Hijazi was one of the most fascinating hours of my life. We talked about different noninvasive procedures he had developed to fix holes in infants’ hearts using balloon-expandable stents. One of the remarkable things about Dr. Hijazi is his ability to explain complicated medical procedures. I noticed this talent in the meeting and later when I had the unbelievable opportunity to shadow him for a week. During consultations with patients, he would explain the procedure they would undergo in such calm and confident way that I rarely saw anyone become anxious at the prospect of heart surgery.

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Finding Ways to Advocate for Patients

Samantha Mok is the 2012 recipient of Rush’s Gail L. Warden Employee of the Year Award.

Social worker case manager Samantha Mok, LSW, looks at problems that may hinder heart patients from following their medical plan of care. The problems may be related to the patients’ finances or access to transportation, among other things. Mok comes up with creative solutions to help them overcome these obstacles and locate resources that others hadn’t previously explored.

Some of her accomplishments include obtaining resources to purchase scales, blood pressure cuffs and glucometers for patients. She often finds physicians at Rush University Medical Center who will make house calls and pharmacies that will deliver medications to patients who are unable to get out.

“She tackles every task with a smile and doesn’t stop until she succeeds,” says Diane Martin, heart transplant coordinator, Department of Cardiovascular-Thoracic Surgery. “She exemplifies the meaning of patient advocacy.

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Patient Takes Heart in Supporting Rush

By Tami McQuown

My first personal encounter with Rush University Medical Center was about 11 years ago. I was having chest pains, my heart was fluttering strangely, and though I had been diagnosed with mitral valve in college, I assumed it was only panic attacks. After several of these occasions, I was referred to cardiology at Rush and was given an immediate appointment.

Following blood and stress tests and a series of other diagnostic procedures, I was told by a cardiology intern that while my current condition was stress-related, there was a bigger issue: sometime in the past I had suffered a mild heart attack or cardiac event that had, in fact, caused damage to my heart. I was so unprepared for the news that I really didn’t know what questions to ask. I felt very confused, unsure about what to do and what my condition would mean. My father had died at 39 of a heart attack, and upon learning that I, too, had sustained damage to my heart, I was suddenly terribly scared and alone.

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Where to Draw the Line on Cholesterol

Eggs are high in cholesterol but contain important nutrients.

By Heather Rasmussen

As a registered dietitian in a cardiology clinic, one of the most common questions I get asked relates to dietary cholesterol. Patients either state that they are avoiding dietary cholesterol as they know that it is “bad” for their heart, or they ask if the rumors that has been circulating about the dangers of cholesterol consumption are really true. As a researcher in the field of heart disease, I know the ins and out of cholesterol, and have a variety of responses in my arsenal.

First, it is true that in some people (approximately one-third), dietary cholesterol does increase your own circulating cholesterol. However, it raises both your good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol, so the ratio of the two does not change. Thus, it is thought that because of this simultaneous increase in both HDL and LDL cholesterol, dietary cholesterol does not greatly impact heart disease risk. However, there are a few caveats.  One, some research shows that eggs (containing dietary cholesterol) increase risk of heart disease in diabetics. In addition, there is some concern that if we measure our own circulating cholesterol after eating (not fasting as most of how cholesterol is measured), that dietary cholesterol may have a negative impact.

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Avoiding Winter Heart Attacks

By Philip R. Liebson, MD

The snow is falling. The winter winds are raging, you are over 50 years of age and you have to shovel the driveway. You may be aware that heart attacks are increased in winter, almost twice the rate as at other seasons. Why and how can you protect yourself?

The reason for the increase in heart attacks involves the cold weather primarily, although snow shoveling helps. Cold weather causes the arteries to constrict, increasing the work of the heart by raising the blood pressure. When the arteries have arteriosclerotic plaque, this decreases blood flow even more. Also, cold causes the heart rate to increase, making the work of the heart even greater. Finally, lifting snow with your shovel is an isometric exercise adding to the work of the heart by an increase in blood pressure.

If you want to shovel snow early in the morning, beware! This is the time of day when heart attacks are greatest, because of the surge of adrenaline that occurs around the time of awakening. With the decreased daylight hours there is also a tendency for depressed mood which can also affect the function of the heart.

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Is Running a Marathon Good For You?

Third in a series of posts recognizing American Heart Month

By Kousik Krishnan, MD

Over the past several years, in very high-profile, large-city marathons, there have occasionally been deaths during races. They have occurred during the Chicago Marathon, the Philadelphia Marathon and even the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2007. These reports often bring to light an unusual paradox, where seemingly very healthy individuals are dying during athletic pursuits, when these same individuals are ostensibly healthy enough to go through the rigors of training for years without any incident.

Why are these individuals dying? Are they living with an undiagnosed condition that leads to the tragic result? Shouldn’t this condition have warning signs or symptoms? Is there something unique about the actual race that triggers an event that doesn’t become evident during normal training?

In the past, I have written about screening for heart disease prior to beginning a vigorous training program. (Read more about symptoms and risk factors that should prompt physician evaluation.)

With this background, I was very interested in a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine that analyzed the Race Associated Cardiac Arrest Event Registry (RACER). This registry collected data from the most recent decade of long-distance running races to determine the incidence, clinical profile, and outcomes of cardiac arrest in these events. The finding of this study show that the rate of cardiac arrest is actually very low (1 per 184,000 runners) and lower than cardiac arrest rates for college athletes, triathletes and previously healthy middle-aged joggers.

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Happy, Healthy Hearts

Second in a series of posts recognizing American Heart Month

By Lynne Braun

Have you noticed that people who have a positive attitude and are generally happy are much easier to spend time with? Have you noticed that when you are happy, you accomplish more, things seem to go your way, and you generally feel better?

A couple of recent studies found that people who are happy and optimistic have less heart disease. These were individuals who are generally positive about life and see the glass as half full instead of half empty. In the most recent study, higher levels of life satisfaction were associated with a 13 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease. Satisfaction with one’s job, family, sex and self seemed to be the most important for heart disease protection. Continue reading