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Saving a Young Heart

Family time is something Michael Coequyt is incredibly grateful to have.

The 33-year-old Minneota man treasures those minutes together: playing in the park and going for a run with his wife, while his three children come along on bikes and in a stroller. He knows Sanford’s coordinated system of care made it possible for him to make more memories with his family.

Doctors at his local clinic in Canby, Minn., discovered he was having a heart attack before he even knew why his chest was hurting. They got him the help he needed at Sanford Heart Hospital. And because they could open his blocked heart vessels, Michael’s here today to take his three kids to the park.

“They brought the right people in to take care of the problem,” says the busy young dad. “All I knew was something was wrong. This is what they do daily.”

Feeling the burn

Michael, who serves as the manager of the local seed mill, thought he was having particularly bad heartburn one day at work. He even mentioned his discomfort to his co-workers, but no one had any heartburn medicine and the pain just went away.

In the early hours of the next morning, the “heartburn” was back, but he went into work anyway. When the pain started to radiate into his shoulder, he decided to visit the urgent care clinic at Sanford Canby Clinic to get some relief. Michael had no reason to think it was his heart. He had always been an active guy, having run 10 marathons over the years. A checkup earlier in the year showed his cholesterol levels were slightly elevated, but nothing to be really concerned about, he says.

“I am a first responder with the fire department, so I knew I should get checked out,” says Michael. “I just didn’t think it was my heart at age 33.”

Some serious symptoms

Family medicine physician Dr. Jaya Potla immediately ordered an electrocardiogram and some blood tests. It showed certain cardiac enzyme levels in his blood were three times the normal amount.

A friend’s wife, who happened to be his nurse that day, explained he was having a heart attack and the necessity of intervening before the muscles of his heart were permanently damaged. Within minutes plans were being made to get him to Sioux Falls.

Cardiologist Dr. Richard Clark took over Michael’s case as soon as he arrived via ambulance at the Sanford Heart Hospital. The doctor says the young man’s case illustrates how not everyone has typical heart pain or even much advance warning of a heart attack.

“A lot of times this can get missed. People have symptoms they don’t recognize,” says Dr. Clark. “They may be tired or winded, or think they’re out of shape, when really they haven’t been feeling right for a long time.”

Trusting the experts

As Michael’s primary cardiologist, Dr. Clark was involved with a team of experts working to keep blood flowing to his heart. They did an angiogram and placed several stents to keep his arteries open. However, Michael’s chest pain didn’t go away. While Michael recovered from the initial procedures at the hospital, he had a nuclear stress test that showed another area of his heart was also fully blocked.

Doctors tried to clear the area with a second angiogram, but he required more intense treatment. Michael was then prepared for coronary artery bypass surgery. This time the treatment was successful and he was soon on the road to recovery.

“It was quite an experience, but I didn’t worry because I knew I was in good hands,” said Michael. “If anyone was going to be able to fix this, they would.”

Dr. Clark says it is relatively unusual to have such a young heart patient, but he’s seen people as young as 23 come in with heart attacks. Eating right and exercising is important for everyone, but with someone like Michael, it’s more important than ever, the cardiologist says. “He should have a normal life expectancy, but there’s always a risk of redevelopment of a blockage,” says Dr. Clark. “Behavior changes and lifestyle changes can go a long ways to make a difference to help prevent that plaque buildup.”

Michael says he feels fortunate he got his treatment in time to avoid much long-term heart damage and he’s doing his best to live a healthy life. Since his surgery in January, he’s dropped 38 pounds and lowered his cholesterol levels. He watches what he eats and follows an exercise regimen that includes regular workouts and running.

The thankful dad says he tells his friends to listen to their doctor’s advice. If a medical professional tells you to exercise or that you need to pay attention to your diet, you take their suggestions seriously, he says.

“I know throughout it all, my kids were wondering what was going on,” says Michael. “They’re just happy to have dad home. And we’ll keep it that way.”

Posted Date: August 2013