Routine checks cheered for heart health

Sebastian Ojeda, a medical assistant for Steward Heart and Vascular, checks the vital signs for double-bypass surgery patient Joe Wilson of Cortland at Trumbull Regional Medical Center’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program in Warren.

Editor’s note: This is the second of a weekly series focusing on cardiovascular health to be published in February, American Heart Month.

CORTLAND — “Car guy” Joe Wilson believes in routine maintenance — for both his vehicles and his cardiovascular system.

A routine checkup “is probably what saved my life,” he said.

Wilson, 59, of Cortland, an engineering supervisor at Aptiv in Howland, underwent double-bypass surgery Dec. 13.

For Christmas, his grandkids gave him a black T-shirt emblazoned with a V-twin motorcycle engine over a large, red heart. The words above and below the heart and engine proclaim, “Original body. Rebuilt engine. Runs like a charm.”

Wilson said that he felt no symptoms of a heart problem. It was just a regularly scheduled stress test that didn’t go so well this time. That led to a heart catheterization, which is when a tube with a camera is inserted into an artery through the wrist or groin and run up to the heart.

The catheter showed one cardiac artery was 75 percent blocked and the left anterior descending artery — the so-called “widowmaker” — 80 percent blocked.

“At that point, he scheduled me for a bypass,” Wilson said. “With preventive maintenance, we avoided a nasty outcome. I think I had a heart attack in my future. We avoided that.”


Wilson was a stickler for routine maintenance because of his family history of heart disease.

“My dad had his first heart attack at 50,” Wilson said. “It almost killed my dad when he was 50 years old. After that, my mom had us all get our cholesterol checked.”

His was high and remained so no matter what he did with his diet or exercise.

“I’ve been on statins for high cholesterol for 25 or 30 years — I don’t even remember,” he said.

He made the mistake of thinking it all had to do with his weight. Once he dropped 50 pounds when he and his wife signed up for Weight Watchers. Then he ditched the statins, because hey, slim and trim means no problems–or so he thought.

At his next checkup, Wilson’s cholesterol was up by 99 points. Even though he was making a concentrated effort to eat healthy foods and exercise, his genetic predispostion to high cholesterol, and his family history of heart disease, still loomed over him.

“As I approached 50, I thought, uh-oh, the clock’s ticking. I would joke, ‘I’m overdue.’ I didn’t know how serious it was.”

“I knew the potential existed. I knew it could kill me. I knew to take it seriously.”

Part of that preventive maintenance was undergoing stress tests. His last one — his fourth or fifth, he doesn’t remember — was in November. “The results weren’t as good as the doctor would have liked,” he said.

Still, he wasn’t prepared for what the catheterization would show. When he showed up at Trumbull Regional Medical Center in Warren for the cath, “I joked that I was the healthiest guy on the fourth floor. I felt great.”

He wasn’t.


A heart attack occurs when blood cannot flow to the heart muscle.

Coronary bypass surgery involves taking a healthy blood vessel from the patient’s arm, leg or chest, and connecting it above and below the blocked cardiac arteries. That creates a new pathway for blood to flow to the heart muscle, bypassing the blockage.

The procedure doesn’t cue cure heart disease but it can ease symptoms, such as chest pain and shortness of breath.

Wilson said that after surgery, he remained in the hospital for six days.

The day after surgery, he had a touch of a-fib — atrial fibrillation — which is characterized by extremely fast or irregular beats in the atria, or upper chambers of the heart.

“They had me up and walking, sitting up in a chair, some medication. It got my heart back in rhythm,” Wilson said.

At home, he still had to take it easy while his sternum healed. During open heart surgery, the surgeon cuts through the breastbone and spreads the ribcage for access to the heart. Wilson said that he couldn’t even walk outside to fetch the morning paper for his wife because the winter chill hurt his chest.

“I hate that sense of feeling useless.”

But finally at his Jan. 19 post-surgery check-up, he Wilson was told all was going well.

“I’m allowed to drive now. That was the longest I went without driving since I was 16,” he said.

He was given clearance to go back to work, and he’s started cardiac rehabilitation, a three-month supervised exercise program to regain strength.

“I’m looking forward to it. I can feel like my muscles have atrophied after two months (of restrictions),” he said. “I want to lift. I want to get back into shape.”

And he’ll keep up with his routine maintenance, he said.

“This is a testimony for getting regular checkups,” Wilson said. “If you have a reason to think you are predisposed to something, get it looked at. There’s a reason to do that kind of stuff.

“I don’t recommend having open-heart surgery,” he said, “but I would recommend Trumbull Regional Medical to do it.”



Keep your heart tuned with routine maintenance

Like the engine of our car, the heart needs regular checkups and maintenance to run properly. Here’s what you can do for your heart.

Primary Care visits

Routine wellness visits with your primary care doctor are important in maintaining good health. It is recommended that:

Those 50 and older in good health see their primary care doctor once a year;

Those younger than 50 in good health also should still see their primary care doctor once a year, but at a minimum at least once every three years;

If you have a chronic disease, like diabetes or COPD, you should see your doctor more frequently, no matter how old you are. Your doctor may suggest more or less time between your checkups based on your risk factors, screening test results, and current health status.

When to See Cardiologist

Heart disease can occur at any age in adulthood, but many types of heart disease are more common with aging. For this reason, it is often more common for people to see a cardiologist as they get older. However there is no specific age when you should see a cardiologist, its more dependent on symptoms and/or risk factors.

Adults under age 50 may consider seeing a cardiologist if they have a family history of heart disease at a young age or if they have symptoms of heart disease. Younger adults can be more likely to develop heart disease themselves if they have family members who had heart disease at a similar age.

Healthy Diet

A heart-healthy diet consists of:

A wide variety of fruits and vegetables;

Whole grains and products made up mostly of whole grains;

Healthy sources of protein (mostly plants such as legumes and nuts, fish and seafood, low-fat or nonfat dairy, and, if you eat meat and poultry, ensuring it is lean and unprocessed);

Liquid non-tropical vegetable oils;

Minimally processed foods;

z intake of added sugars;

Foods prepared with little or no salt;

Limited or preferably no alcohol intake.


Start by knowing how many calories you should be eating and drinking to maintain your weight

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (or an equal combination of both) each week.

Increase the amount and intensity of your physical activity to burn more calories.

Preventive Screenings

Recommended Screenings

Blood pressure — Check at each regular health care visit or at least once per year if blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg.

Cholesterol (“fasting lipoprotein profile” to measure total, HDL and LDL cholesterol) — Check every four to six years for normal-risk adults; more often if any you have elevated risk for heart disease and stroke.

Weight and body mass index (BMI) — Check during regular health care visits.

Waist circumference — Measure as needed to help evaluate cardiovascular risk if your BMI is greater than or equal to 25 kg/m2.

Blood glucose test — Check at least every three years.

Discuss smoking, physical activity and diet — Do so at each regular health care visit.

Source: Trumbull Regional Medical Center Cardiothoracic and Vascular Services


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