Heart to Heart

Augusta Health's cardiology center—one man's story

Keith Cooper, of Stuarts Draft, woke up on the morning of Nov. 2 with pain in both his arms. He chalked it up to overusing his arms the day before while moving into the house he and his wife had just built. But the pain only worsened, and that's when Cooper's wife called 911.

Keith CooperTurns out what he was beginning to experience was a "widow-maker heart attack"; it's a usually fatal, massive heart attack stemming from a blockage in one of the heart's main arteries. "I used to have borderline high cholesterol and high blood pressure, but I wasn't having any heart trouble and didn't have problems in my family," 62-year-old Cooper says.

Cooper, a retired federal government employee, is proof that heart attacks come in all types of packages. He never experienced any chest pain and showed no other signs of a heart attack, so emergency responders were unsure if he was having one at first. But he went into cardiac arrest and was resuscitated in the ambulance when they were a few miles from the hospital.

Waiting for him upon his arrival at Augusta Health was Rajeev Pillai, M.D., an interventional cardiologist, who took Cooper straight into the hospital's cardiac catheterization lab. In less than 20 minutes, Cooper says, Dr. Pillai was inserting a wire mesh device, called a stent, to prop open his clogged artery. His heart muscle suffered little damage, if any.

Heart Disease 101

For most people who suffer a heart attack, the main culprit is heart disease, which occurs when arteries and small blood vessels that supply blood to the heart narrow—usually because of a buildup on artery walls of fatty substances such as cholesterol. Warning signs that heart disease could be developing include chest pain (angina), shortness of breath and limb pain and discomfort.

"There's no one pill to help manage heart disease. You need to modify your risk factors," say cardiologists at Augusta Health. Genetics play a part in the development of the disease, but so do bad habits.

While you can't change your heart disease risk factors such as family history or age, you can control your:

  • blood pressure
  • cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • diet
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • smoking
  • stress levels
  • weight

Caring for Your Heart

Cooper has plans. In addition to enjoying retirement, he wants to join the hospital's fitness center to pick up where his cardiac rehabilitation left off . "I couldn't have asked for better care," he says of his time at Augusta Health. He credits the quick treatment time with helping to save his life.

"One of our advantages is that we're a smaller hospital, so we can be more responsive," says Kelly Manor, P.A.-C, Clinical Coordinator of Augusta Health's cardiac catheterization lab. She notes that the hospital's heart attack treatment times are faster than the national standard. "We're proud of what we've done here," she says.

On any given day, you can see this pride in Augusta Health's cardiology department, as its medical team is hard at work for its patients. To meet the community's needs, "We offer a variety of services," says Mark Masonheimer, B.S.n., Administrative Director of cardiovascular services.

You may see patients getting noninvasive services such as stress tests rooting out heart problems, monitors looking for irregular heartbeats and ultrasounds detecting blockages in the body. Others may be undergoing more invasive procedures such as cardiac catheterization for diagnostic and emergency treatment purposes (including a newer technique called radial access, which allows for quicker recovery time for patients), angioplasty, stenting and implantation of pacemakers. Patients who meet certain criteria, such as those who've had a heart attack, will also be offered cardiac rehab. "There's a real feeling of security among patients," says Debbie Caldwell, rnCCT, AnCC-BC, Clinical Coordinator of cardiac rehab in the monitored outpatient exercise program.

But medical services and procedures aside, the staff also plays an important role in the level of quality care offered. "We have a very dedicated, compassionate team here at Augusta Health," Masonheimer says.

And they literally take your health to heart.

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Get Your Physician's OK

Your healthcare provider will likely support your fitness efforts and may offer specific guidelines based on your health. Check with him or her to discuss whether any of the following apply to you:

  • chest pain or pain in the neck or arm
  • shortness of breath
  • a diagnosed heart condition or you take heart or
  • blood pressure medication
  • joint or bone problems
  • dizziness
  • an inactive lifestyle

Tips for Getting Active

  • You can find opportunities for physical activity everywhere! Try these tips:
  • Organize a family softball game
  • Walk briskly around the mall—and do a little window-shopping
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Learn a new dance
  • Take the dog for a walk
  • Park farther away from the store or your office building
  • Wash the car, garden, vacuum or do any other chore that gets the heart pumping
  • Train for a charity event, such as a walk-run race