Pradip Desai didn’t think much of the repeated pressure he felt in his chest during daily walks with his five rescue dogs.
The 63-year-old didn’t pay special attention to being out of breath after climbing the stairs in his north Houston home, either.
To be cautious, Desai followed the advice of a family member, who is a physician, and scheduled a visit in January with Nilay Mehta, D.O., a cardiologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital.
It was a life-saving decision.
Mehta performed an angiography, revealing blockages of 80-95 percent in three of Desai’s coronary arteries, putting him at serious risk of heart attack and potentially worse.
“Partial arterial blockages are common, but once a certain percentage of the artery is blocked, it calls for serious, immediate intervention, especially if symptomatic,” Mehta said. “We knew there was no time to waste.”
Within minutes of completing the angiography, Mehta was in contact with cardiovascular surgeon Tom C. Nguyen, M.D., director of Minimally Invasive Valve Surgery at Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-Texas Medical Center.
Despite being in separate locations, the two physicians were able to simultaneously review the results of the angiography and decided to have Desai urgently transferred to Memorial Hermann-TMC for triple bypass surgery.
“A great benefit to patients and one of the strengths of the Memorial Hermann Health System is its ability to immediately provide access points to a spectrum of healthcare services throughout the entire Houston area,” Nguyen said. “Although Houston is a big city, we are all interconnected and I was able to quickly review Desai’s angiography and coordinate his care. It’s very important to be thorough at each step in the continuum of care to ensure the best possible outcomes for our patients.”
Desai was out of the hospital within a week following the surgery. He slowly began walking his dogs less than a month later. Less than two months out of his surgery, Desai was walking three dogs at a time with zero complications and more importantly, no symptoms.
“I’m feeling great. I’m feeling very good,” Desai said. “I had a fantastic experience. Mehta is an incredible doctor and Nguyen is an excellent surgeon. The staff at Memorial Hermann went way beyond just visiting my room.”
What to look for
While Desai’s condition was serious, the warning signs weren’t. Before seeing Mehta, Desai had never experienced acute chest pain and only felt some pressure around his heart but that didn’t affect his walks.
Desai made quarterly visits to his endocrinologist to keep his diabetes in check, and he had yearly electrocardiogram (EKG) testing on his heart.
So why would he think anything was wrong?
“People don’t want it to be a heart problem because that’s a scary thought. Often times they may say its age related or their stomach or another reason,” Mehta said. “Looking at the big picture and knowing the risk factors around heart disease is really important.”
While the chest pressure and shortness of breath seemed innocuous to Desai, coupled with his age, gender and diabetes, they were actually warning signs of a potential heart attack. Diabetics are at higher risk with 68 percent of them older than 65 dying from some form of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
While individuals can’t control risk factors like age, gender and heredity, there are other contributing factors to heart disease that are manageable, according to Mehta and the AHA.
“People should definitely not smoke or should stop smoking to decrease the risk of heart disease,” Mehta said. “Maintaining a healthy body weight, controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and being physically active are also very important for heart health.”
Mehta also strongly recommends controlling alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy diet and managing stress levels to reduce the risk of heart disease.
“It’s very important to get primary care screening for cardiovascular risk factors yearly and to know when to do cardiovascular testing according to those risk factors,” Mehta said.
The AHA recommends starting regular cardiovascular screenings at 20, in addition to screening tests for blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, body mass index and blood glucose, to help maintain optimal cardiovascular health.