Heart, Health, and the Universe

Sunday, October 3, 2005

I awoke about 4:00 a.m. I was sweating. My heart was racing. I fell back to sleep. I awoke again about 6:00 a.m. I was damp with sweat, but my heart was no longer racing. I swung my feet over the side of the bed and sat up.

First decision of the day: Take Robbie out for his morning walk.

I stood. I was dizzy, my chest tight. The cold symptoms I noticed on Friday are becoming bronchitis. Just what I need on a Sunday morning.

Second decision of the day: Urgent care is closed. I’ll have to go to the hospital ER.

I dressed and headed out with Robbie. Half a block from the house, I was too dizzy to continue and turned back. With Robbie taken care of, I sat on the stairs in the entry hall.

Third decision of the day: Do I just take it easy today and wait until Monday morning to go to the urgent care or do I go over to the hospital ER now?

The ER was not busy and I was taken in right away. Blood was drawn, a chest xray taken, and I was left alone. An ER physician came in, asked a few questions, then left. Expecting someone to return shortly with a prescription for the antibiotics I thought I would need for the bronchitis I was sure I had, I was surprised when a nurse arrived and asked if I had been told that they were keeping me until after 1:00 p.m. because they needed to draw blood for another panel. “No,” I said. “No one has told me anything. Why is another blood panel needed?” I asked.

“It takes that long for the enzymes to show up,” he said.

“What enzymes?” I asked.

“The enzymes that indicate a heart attack.”

“A heart attack!” I said. “You think I’ve had a heart attack?”

“That’s what we need to find out,” he said.

The 1:00 p.m. lipid panel indicated a heart attack. The ER physician told me he consulted the on call cardiologist who recommended an angiogram. The hospital in Ridgecrest, where I was living at the time, does not have a “cath” lab. I needed to be transported by ambulance to a hospital in Bakersfield, two hours away.

It was after 3:00 p.m. when the ambulance got underway. When we arrived at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital, I was wheeled into the ER. More blood was drawn. About 45 minutes later, a physician introduced himself to me as the cardiologist who would be caring for me.

“Why are you here?” he asked.

“I was told I had a heart attack and that I need to have an angiogram,” I said.

“Angiogram is an invasive procedure,” he said. “The blood panel we just ran does not give evidence of a heart attack. We’ll need to do further testing to determine if an angiogram is needed.”

I was admitted to the hospital. The next morning, the testing began. Later in the the day, the cardiologist came into my room to tell me that the tests confirmed the need for an angiogram and that the procedure was scheduled for the following morning.

The angiogram revealed three areas of concern:

  • 10-20% blockage in the mid segment of the lateral anterior descending artery
  • 80-85% blockage in the third diagonal branch
  • 75% blockage just before the terminal branch of the distal left anterior descending artery

The recommendation was for “aggressive medical treatment and risk modification” as none of the blockages were suitable for surgical intervention. My cardiologist prescribed 80 mg. of Zocor (Simvastatin) and 81 mg. of aspirin daily.

Risk modification means diet and exercise. My diet was low in fat and, for all intents and purposes, I considered myself  a “could be” vegetarian, eating chicken, fish, and eggs only occasionally. As for exercise, Robbie and I walked 3-5 miles every day.

The statin lowered my cholesterol to 150. I knew I could afford to lose twenty pounds or so, but quarterly check ups with my cardiologist confirmed the status quo, allowing me to continue happily on my way. Until…

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I ran into Todd at the District Office. I’ve known Todd for several years. He’s a big guy: tall and overweight. I hadn’t seen him in several months and was unprepared for the tall, skinny guy who stood, beaming, before me. “Todd,” I said, “you look fantastic! What are you doing?” The answer to the question was my introduction to Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D., author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, and T. Collin Campbell, Ph.D., author of The China Study, pioneers in the effects of a plant-based, oil-free diet on heart disease and cancer. Todd is nothing if not passionate about plant-based nutrition.

The two-hour drive home after my talk with Todd gave me ample time to think about the diet. I was pretty much a vegetarian, anyway. I thought, “Why not give the diet a shot?” At home, I went straight to my computer and ordered both Esselstyn’s and Campbell’s books from amazon.com after which I googled Dr. Esselstyn and watched his video presentation on the diet and its results. I started the diet that evening. Two days later the books arrived. I began reading Esselstyn and committed to the diet. In September, four months later, my weight was down to 155 pounds, a loss of 25 pounds. I had a lipid panel and met with my cardiologist:

  • Cholesterol 108, down from 137
  • LDL 50, down from 74;
  • HDL 38, down from 50 (It’s now back up to 42 and we’re working on getting it higher.)

Excited as I was about the change in the numbers, we agreed to wait another three months before considering any changes in the dosage.

In December 2010, my cholesterol, LDL, and HDL numbers were 120, 57, and 42, respectively. My physician and I agreed to reduce the statin dosage to 40 mg. per day. Three months later, in March 2011, the numbers 105, 50, and 38. We agreed to a further reduction, 20 mg. per day. In June, the numbers were again good: 130, 58, and 47. We reduced the statin dosage to 10 mg. per day.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

On September 30, I had blood drawn for a lipid panel and on October 6, I met with my physician to go over the results. The numbers were 134, 68, and 44. The good news: I am off of the statin! We’ll check again in three months, but in the meantime, I have even greater motivation to stick to my diet.

I believe that the Universe puts people and events on our path when we need them or when we are ready hear or to experience them. I am convinced that running into Todd on May 12, 2010 was an instance of a divine or universal “Hello, Dennis” moment. However it happened, I am grateful for the results.

0 thoughts on “Heart, Health, and the Universe

  1. Annis Cassells

    Quite a scare you had, Dennis! And, those of us who know and love you are also grateful for The Universe putting you and Todd together at precisely the right moment. xoA