Suffering a heart attack and experiencing cardiac rehab
One Thursday in early December, George Degenhart, 71, of Springfield enjoyed chili at a dinner with his former staff. By 6:15 p.m. he was home and regretting that chili dinner. So great was his discomfort, that within 15 minutes, he asked his wife to take him to the hospital.
George, who lives in rural Clark County and serves as the director of planning and zoning for German Township, remembers that they nearly hit a deer. The pain in his chest became intense and George had his wife stop at the German Township firehouse for help. While the staff was busy, they immediately recognized that something was wrong and began working on him. His blood pressure was dangerously high so they gave him a nitro pill, aspirin and oxygen as they took his EKG. In moments, George was on the way to Mercy Health – Springfield Regional Medical Center.
In the emergency department, the medical team had already reviewed George’s EKG and status prior to his arrival. Shortly after his arrival, doctors told him that further tests confirmed he was having a heart attack. He was put on a nitro drip to ease his pain and, while 15 procedures were already on the books for the cath lab, George found himself first in line for a balloon angioplasty and the placement of two stents. The cath lab team talked him through what was happening.
“When you are laying there and you’re in pain and you don’t know what’s going on, it’s helpful to have someone there to explain things,” George said. “The staff and my cardiologist, Dr. Muhammad Ashraf, kept me informed all the way through the procedure.”
“Once I felt better, they showed me the pictures of my heart. I had this interstate highway in my heart with an off-ramp leading to a national forest with no trails. Dr. Ashraf said he had God on his side this time.”
Diagnosing George’s heart problems
George had a 100% blockage in the left main artery of the heart, which supplies the pumping chamber of the heart. This condition is known as the widow maker. If the artery can’t supply the heart, the heart stops working. Many people with this blockage die before they reach the hospital. The survival rate is about five percent.
“I have had all the proper medications, see my doctor regularly and even had a stress test the week before my heart attack,” says George.
It may well be a family history of heart issues, which has seen has grandfather, father, younger brother and cousin affected, that led to George’s heart attack. Doctors said a plaque rupture led to the formation of the clot that blocked his artery. Essentially, some plaque in George’s artery broke loose and caused a sudden blockage.
“Dr. Ashraf said, ‘You are lucky to have survived this,’” recalls George. “I feel very fortunate.”
Remarkably, George spent only two days in the hospital. He started cardiac rehab before Christmas and is feeling great and walking 6,000 steps daily.
“I know I had a significant event but it was handled so well and it went so fast that I don’t see it as that,” says George. “I’ve had dental work that was more painful.”