MY TOUGHEST CASE
For many patients, the first symptom of heart disease is sudden death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 610,000 Americans die of heart disease every year (1 in every 4 deaths). That’s why it’s so rewarding when doctors are able to save the lives of patients with heart issues. Bart Denys, MD and medical director of the Cardiovascular Institute of the South at Thibodaux, has been helping heal hearts since 1982.
Like many things in life, saving a patient is a mixture of skill and luck. The two were intertwined for a recent patient of Denys. The patient was a 50-year-old woman who had no risk factors for heart disease. She didn’t smoke, she wasn’t overweight and in general appeared to be the picture of good health. But she’d been suffering from chest pains, and they would not go away.
The woman made an appointment to see Denys. During their appointment, she had a heart attack and he had to rush her to the emergency room. In a freak occurrence, the woman had a tear in an artery that was obstructing blood flow to the heart. Her blood pressure dropped rapidly and her heart stopped. The tear made it more challenging than usual to place the stent. But Denys was able to install it in the nick of time and he saved the woman’s life.
“It was a matter of sixty seconds between life and death,” said Denys.
Patients who experience a tear in the artery of the heart often do nothing to bring about the tear. They are people like Denys’ patient, seemingly healthy with some chest pains that are written off as stress, indigestion, or something else. And then they die suddenly. Denys’ patient was incredibly lucky to have her heart attack while she was visiting him. If she’d had it anywhere else, she would have died.
Not all heart attacks result in sudden death. Some of them give patients a little more warning, but the symptoms can be deceptive. Denys warns that heart attack symptoms can be as simple as a little shortness of breath and chest pains that can be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Patients should always have a “better safe than sorry” approach to heart health. They should not be embarrassed if they visit a doctor with these symptoms and are told that it’s only something minor.
The 61-year-old Dr. Denys was born in Bruges, Belgium and has been in Thibodaux since 1994. He doesn’t just carry a stethoscope in Thibodaux; he carries a badge, too. He has a great respect for law enforcement and is a commissioned sheriff’s deputy.
TIPS FROM THE DOC
Dr. Bart Denys shares 3 ways to keep your heart healthy
1. QUIT SMOKING
Denys said one of the most controllable ways to stop heart disease is to quit smoking. Smoking doesn’t just damage the lungs; it also dramatically increases a patient’s chance for heart disease. Smoking increases blood pressure, decreases a person’s ability to tolerate exercise, and increases the likelihood of blood clotting. It all adds up to a greater risk for heart attacks.
2. MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT
Another controllable risk factor for heart disease is weight. Maintaining a healthy weight can keep a patient’s blood pressure in check. Stomach fat is linked to high blood sugar, increased blood pressure, and higher levels of triglycerides (fat found in the blood). “Looking good is in the gym. Losing weight is in the kitchen,” said Denys.
3. REGULAR DOCTOR VISITS
Some risk factors cannot be controlled, like age and a family history of heart disease. Denys recommends people visit a doctor at age 40 to get a checkup. Even if you seemingly have no risk factors, it’s good to see where your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are.“It’s better for me to find [heart disease] before it finds you,” said Denys.