Convincing A Patient He Had a Heart Attack

Medical mysteries abound in the emergency room, and the challenges that physicians deal with are vast and challenging in mental, physical and emotional ways.

Liza Di Leo Thomas, M.D., who has worked at Ochsner since 2001, knew most of her life that she would become a physician one day. As a child, she spent time with her father in his anesthesiology office and keenly listened in on conversations about medicine at “the Sunday dinner table” between her dad and other medical professionals in the family.

Being raised by a doctor and a compassionate mother helped her prepare for her role as a doctor. Twelve-hour shifts can be physically exhausting for Dr. Thomas — who is also a mother of five —as she often can’t even take a break to eat. Other aspects of the job are emotionally draining for her and the patients and families: No one wants to deliver the tragic news to a someone experiencing balance issues that her symptoms are a result of brain cancer.

One of the toughest cases she dealt with recently involved a man who was brought in via ambulance for chest pain. Diagnostically, she says, it was easy: His EKG, done by paramedics, showed signs of a heart attack. Dr. Thomas alerted the cardiologist that the man would likely need an angiogram.

Surprisingly, though, when the patient arrived his symptoms subsided. “He actually rolled in on the stretcher, talking on his cell phone and insisted he was just having a panic attack,” she recalls. Cardiologists conferred and decided what to do since his pain had resolved. “He said his pain began after drinking a Coke and taking Ibuprofen, and he believed his pain was a result of that,” recalls Dr. Thomas. She had to convince him that the results of the EKG indicated a heart attack; a panic attack would not produce such changes. The cardiology department finally convinced him to undergo the procedure— though he remained on his cell phone — to receive a stent in one of his coronary arteries for what turned out to be a massive blockage. “It was challenging to communicate the severity of his condition,” she notes. “But I’m proud our team was able to provide lifesaving care to him.”

Undergraduate: Duke University
Medical School: Louisiana State University
Hometown: New Orleans