One of the last things on Jack Hatley’s mind the day after he turned 37 years old was heart disease. While the Pittsburgh resident had a history of high blood pressure, it was under control with medication, and he had no other indications of heart trouble.
So it caught him by surprise when he began to feel overheated and uncomfortable while working in his garden.
“I had dealt with high blood pressure and higher cholesterol, but I was average weight and enjoyed outdoor activities,” said Jack. “It was a complete shock that I could be at risk of a heart attack, especially at my age.”
Home by himself in July 2013, Jack began feeling progressively worse. Perhaps because he is married to a nurse practitioner and has a brother-in-law who is an emergency room physician, he knew he should get help.
“That was when I felt I got hit in the chest with a baseball bat. The chest pain was significant,” Jack recalled. “At that point, I was certain what it was. I was having a heart attack.”
When he arrived at nearby Allegheny General Hospital, Jack was still experiencing chest pain and sweating.
“I was afraid. I didn’t know what would happen,” he said.
Quickly he was taken up to the cath lab, the area of the hospital with specialized cardiac imaging equipment and tools to perform procedures such as angioplasty. His physician, Dr. M. Chakravarthy, placed two stents to open up blockage in his LAD –the left anterior descending artery of his heart, which is responsible for supplying the heart with much of the blood it needs.
“The treatment saved my life,” said Jack. “I stayed in the hospital for a few days before I was able to go home.”
For Jack, the return home from the hospital was just the beginning of his recovery. He was happy to be alive, but the stress and fear of another heart attack haunted him for some time.
“For the next six to nine months, I had a hard time sleeping. It was a difficult experience, and I was afraid it would happen again,” he said.
Jack needed to recover physically, and also emotionally. He sought out counseling to help him manage the stress of his life-changing experience.
“It was a tough year,” he recalled. “It made me reflect on how fleeting life is.”
Seeking help kept Jack on a course to recovery. He also joined a cardiac rehab program at his hospital. Cardiac rehab programs help heart disease patients recover more quickly and manage their risk factors through fitness training, nutrition counseling and other services.
“I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been. I can run now – I run 5Ks. And I swim,” said Jack. “I can’t stress this enough – fully commit to your cardiac rehab program. Follow your doctor’s advice on medication and diet. It will change your life.”
Finding a doctor he respected and trusted was also key to his recovery. Jack credits interventional cardiologist Dr. Robin Girdhar of the University of Pittsburgh in helping him fully understand the recovery process.
A year later, Jack was able to celebrate his birthday and the one-year anniversary of surviving his heart attack.
“Having a heart attack was a horrible feeling. It was scary,” said Jack. “But now I’m in a better place. It may take some time, but you can get help and get over it. Take your recovery seriously, and you’ll see how you can improve your health.”