Stories of Hope and Recovery

Russell Wickrowski

Russell Wickrowski

A Lifetime of Indigestion Nearly Disguises Symptoms of a Blocked Artery

On their way to a rock concert, Russell Wickrowski and his two children were hustling to catch the subway when he first recalls feeling a pain in the center of his chest.

“I’ve suffered from acid indigestion my whole life and wrote off the chest pains as just that. I took some Tums and felt better. But looking back, I’m now sure the only reason I started feeling better at that moment wasn’t that the Tums were working, but because I had quit running to the subway,” said Russell.

Dr. Charles E. Chambers, Russell’s treating interventional cardiologist, explains how common it is for people to mistake their heart attack symptoms for something else: “In Russell’s case, indigestion he thought he was experiencing was actually stable angina or chronic chest pain, and if left untreated could lead to something more serious,” said Dr. Chambers.

For more than a month, Russell would continue to experience sporadic chest pains—while on walks with his wife and while vacationing in Florida—but he would just stop what he was doing, take medication for indigestion, and start feeling better shortly after. It wasn’t until his condition worsened and he started waking in the middle of the night to chest pains that he started to worry about his heart’s health.

“There were a few nights where I would wake around 2 a.m. and have those same pains in the center of my chest,” said Russell. “I knew I hadn’t eaten anything recently to trigger indigestion so I decided to schedule an appointment with my cardiologist.”

Russell underwent a stress test and within two hours was in the cardiac catheterization lab with Dr. Chambers at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

“Russell’s artery had narrowed considerably and was restricting blood flow, which explains his worsening chest pain,” said Dr. Chambers. “Fortunately, Russell recognized his symptoms were becoming progressively worse and sought help. If he had continued to ignore the symptoms, his quality of life could have continued to decline, or worse, he could have suffered a heart attack.”

To examine the seriousness of Russell’s condition, Dr. Chambers performed a cardiac catheterization. During the procedure, a long, hollow tube (called a catheter) was carefully guided to the arteries in his heart. Using special dye and X-ray imaging, Dr. Chambers was able to see that one of Russell’s heart arteries was 90% blocked. Due to the severity of the blockage, Dr. Chambers guided the catheter to the blockage and inserted two stents to widen the narrowed artery and allow adequate blood flow.

“Before the procedure, I met with Dr. Chambers and his medical team and they walked me through the procedure process and the associated risks. In my case the benefits far outweighed the risks,” said Russell. “When Dr. Chambers stented my blocked artery, it eliminated the symptoms that were hindering my lifestyle. I felt confident going into the procedure,” said Russell.

Russell was able to leave the hospital the next day and has been enjoying a symptom-free life ever since. He has also adjusted his diet to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“After my procedure, I thought about telling everyone I was just sick but decided to share what had happened. I figured if I could reach one person who was ignoring the symptoms, that is one life saved,” said Russell.