In Honor of Father’s Day: My Dad and the Heart Attack Miracle

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my mother in honor of Mother’s Day. This week I have the pleasure of writing about my own father for Father’s Day. I thought I would write about my father’s heart attack miracle and his triple bypass surgery, to demonstrate some solid principles of good health care navigation.

My father is a swimmer.  For the past 5 odd decades, my father has swum several times a week.  Ten years ago my father participated in a summer swim race on a lake.  He says he remembers feeling especially tired at the end.  Okay, no biggy, after all, he was in his 70’s. It’s normal. That was in August. In September, my father was still feeling tired, a bit run down.

***Note: he had no pain, no arm weakness, no stabbing feelings in his chest.

He went to his routine cardiology appointment and the doctor said, “You know, you don’t look like your usual self.  I want you to go downstairs and do a stress test.” It was 4:55 and the lab closed at 5. But the doctor insisted with the technician.  My father had a stress test and the doctor sent him for an immediate angiography, a test that measures possible blockage in the cardiac arteries.

After the test, the doctor sat with my mother.  He said, “Listen.  There are three types of results here.  One type is a suggestion, ‘possible blockage, go get a second opinion’.  The second type is ‘your husband will need surgery.  Go home, look around, choose a surgeon, and choose a date’.  The third type is ‘operate now’.  Your husband has the third type.”

Twelve hours later my father was on the operating table undergoing open heart surgery.  After a triple by-pass, rehab, and several months of recovery, my father was back in the pool.   Ten years later, he has only a dim scar to show for this adventure.

What are the take-home messages from father’s encounter with his almost heart attack?

  1. My father had a cardiologist who knew him. This is crucial. He had chronic high cholesterol and a history of familial heart disease. For these reasons, he had begun going to a cardiologist years before, on a follow-up basis.  This meant that when he went to the doctor, even if with his amorphous symptoms, the doctor knew him, and knew when my father was “off”.
  2. My father listened to his body. He didn’t feel right. He had general malaise, but no specific pains or sensations; however he knew that something felt wrong, and he mentioned it to the doctor.
  3. My father has exercised consistently all these years, and he continues to exercise. The doctors felt that this was crucial to his quick recovery.
  4. My father was up within hours of the operation, and walking within a few days. He followed the cardiologist’s suggestions to the letter, and he stayed optimistic and active, even when he felt crummy and in pain. Rehab is hard work but it is the only way to regain your functioning after serious surgery. My father demonstrated that principle to the fullest.

My father had a true miracle that day.  Not only that he listened to himself and had a doctor who knew him, but that the doctor insisted instead of saying come back in a couple of days and do the test then.  Or that he had a surgeon who was available right then. All miracles, but Dad, you are the biggest miracle of all. I’m so honored to call you my father.


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