Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cardiac Chronicles: Bush's "Widowmaker" blockage worse than reported in August

The National Journal has a scoop today regarding Pres. George W. Bush's heart condition.

Apparently, Bush's heart crisis in August was much more serious than reported at the time.

If you remember, the ex-Prez went in for a physical in Dallas and his docs found some bad rhythms in an EKG during a stress test. A CT scan discovered a blockage of the Left Anterior Descending (LAD) artery, a.k.a. "The Widowmaker." Surgeons inserted a stent and, after a night in the hospital, sent Bush on his way. He's now back golfing and riding mountain bikes and clearing brush from his ranch. He does all of these vigorously, but not at the same brisk pace as before the surgery.

And getting featured in news stories:
Dr. Jonathan Reiner, an interventional cardiologist at George Washington University who has treated former Vice President Dick Cheney but was not involved in Bush's care, noted that a blockage of that magnitude wouldn't necessarily be fatal in all patients but is a very serious situation requiring prompt treatment.

Even with a 95 percent blockage, Reiner said, blood will still be flowing through the impaired artery, but the heart muscle must work harder, particularly during vigorous activity. The added strain when blood flow is diminished can lead to serious cardiac complications, including a heart attack.

"Every case is different," Reiner said. "It depends on several factors, including how quickly a blockage has developed. But it's a very important vessel. If you occlude that particular artery it can kill you."
And this:
A prominent internist who asked not to be identified added that Bush's blockage, if undiagnosed, would almost certainly have risked "a grave cardiac event."
Finally, this:
The 43rd president has exercised regularly for years and is generally believed to be in excellent health. 
Pres. Bush and I have something in common. As I related in a post in August, we both had occlusions in the same artery. I hate to brag, but mine was 100 percent and I lived to tell the tale. I too had a stent, but spent a week in the hospital recuperating from congestive heart failure caused by the blockage. I was floored to hear the LAD called "the Widowmaker" by my cardiologist. Both of us were in fine shape. I don't clear brush or ride my bike. But I do swim every other day at the local YMCA.

There are some differences. I went almost two weeks before my blockage was detected and treated. In the process, my heart muscles sustained what is probably irreparable damage. I'm not going to complain. If I had only known that stomach pain could mean "heart attack," I would have got myself to the hospital a lot sooner. I didn't have a crackerjack team of doctors available to the president at the renowned Cooper Center in Dallas. My regular doctor neglected to give me a stress test or an EKG. That would have helped. Instead, he treated me first for the stomach virus and then for pneumonia. I had lung congestion, but it was due to a malfuctioning heart and not a bacterial assault on my lung lining.

I also now am equipped with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD), just in case I get hit with an arrhythmia or, God forbid, catastrophic heart failure. 

We are both lucky, Pres. Bush and I. We remain among the living. And we both have plenty of blogging material, although I rarely see Dubya tapping out communiques in the blogosphere.

One other thing: If you're not a former president and don't have comprehensive health insurance, sign up for the Affordable Care Act. Heart attacks are expensive. Mine was $200,000-plus, almost all covered by a health plan that I have been paying into for 22 years, with the state picking up the lion's share.

Make sure you get a stress test or an EKG. Either might save your life. 

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