Heart Attack Symptoms Can be “Different From What You Might Expect”

A patient’s testimony

Rev FosterA burning sensation in his chest was the telltale sign for the Rev. Willie Foster that he had suffered a heart attack, but only in hindsight. Once when he was shoveling snow in January 2015, and the second time when he was mowing his lawn in April that same year.

“It’s not always that pounding in your chest. The symptoms can be different from what you might expect.”

When he went in to be seen for an ear infection in April, Foster described these episodes to his primary care physician, Paul Taylor, MD, of Mercy Westshore Internal Medicine, who automatically referred Foster to have a stress test conducted to see how his heart was performing.  The stress test led to an outpatient heart catheterization procedure, a process that takes images of the heart and vessels to detect any blockages within the heart. If multi-vessel disease were found, open heart surgery would be required to fix Foster’s heart.

Three blockages were found. Foster’s next step was a consultation with Cardiothoracic Surgeon Richard Downey, MD, Assistant Professor, Michigan Medicine, for open heart surgery at Mercy Health Muskegon to bypass the blockages.

“Dr. Downey told me, ‘You should not wait. If you have a heart attack, it won’t be good,'” said Foster.

Foster heeded his advice and scheduled his surgery for a week and a half later.

“Once I was opened up, Dr. Downey found two more blockages, for a total of five,” said Foster. “He was able to repair them, and I remember waking up at 2:30 p.m. that day, in my hospital room.”

Foster describes his care at Mercy Health Muskegon as a difficult experience made “enjoyable” by a caring and expert staff.

Aside from exemplary medical care, laughter was the best medicine for Foster. “I always told my congregation that I if I am ever in the hospital, make me laugh. That’s exactly what the Environmental Services staff did for me. I had a wonderful woman who cleaned and tended to my room. She constantly made me laugh. She knew what I needed!”

Today, after surgery and cardiac rehab, Foster stands as a testament for knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, and for the importance of a relationship with his primary care provider, Dr. Taylor, who detected the warning signs of his heart attack.

Do you know the warning signs of a heart attack?

  • Chest discomfort
  • Pain in arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

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