In this Skylar Spotlight, we talked with Kashmiri (Kash) Mittal, a 71-year-old chemistry professor, husband, father and grandfather from New York. He experienced his first heart attack 12 years ago, at the age of 59, but still remembers it very vividly.
Skylar: Tell us about the events that led up to the heart attack
Kash: During December 2004, I went to my cardiologist for a routine check-up. He did an EKG (electrocardiogram) and conducted a stress test and a nuclear test and told me everything was O.K. and I had the heart of a horse (just kidding). In other words, he have me a clean bill of health as far as my heart was concerned. So I was very elated.
On March 1, 2005, I went to Indianapolis to teach a 2-day course in a company. I checked in the hotel around 11:30 PM. I got up in the morning, took a shower and I felt a little squeamish. I am diabetic so I had a banana and I thought this banana on an empty stomach caused this stomach sensation. I HAD ABSOLUTELY NO PAIN. Then my host called me from the lobby telling me he was waiting for me in the lobby and I told him I was putting on my tie (I never give a lecture without a tie, this is my religion) and should be in the lobby in a minute.
I took the elevator, went down and I was feeling O.K. Then all of a sudden, I have no idea what happened and I heard a lot of noise. Apparently EMS arrived and there were lots of people as it happened in the morning at around 8:00 AM and many people were checking out.
Skylar: What was the experience of a heart attack like? What were you thinking and feeling?
Kash: The only thing I remember is that someone was asking me “Who is authorized to make decisions on your behalf?” I remember saying: “Dr. Gupta (my host).” Once they took me to the Heart Center, I was knocked out. Later, Dr. Gupta told me it took 5-6 hours for the operation and he was with me all the time. My five arteries were blocked so the surgeon had to do a quintuple-bypass. Looks like my whole plumbing when awry and I should have called the Roto-rooter.
I was told that people generally have shoulder pain if they are having a heart attack but I felt NO SHOULDER PAIN. So once I came out of anesthesia, I was nagged by the question of how and why it happened. Of course I was terrified and was thinking of my family.
I went to my cardiologist and asked “You had told me in December that my heart was O.K, so what happened in two months and caused the heart attack?” He told me that the normal tests (stress and nuclear) the doctors conduct are not very reliable as they can detect only if the blockage is more than 70%. According to my cardiologist what happened is that, when I went to him, the blockage was less than 70% and in the interim (the two months) plaque deposit ruptured and blocked the arteries.
Skylar: How long was the recovery period and what did it involve?
Kash: I believe in the adage: “If you stay active, you recover sooner.” As I was not allowed to fly, we rented a van and I was sleeping all the way from Indianapolis to my home in Upstate New York. Oddly enough, I asked my son to drop of first in my office. Some people thought I was nuts. I stayed in the office for a couple of hours and then I went home. I 2-3 days, I started driving and would come to the office for a few hours. The total recovery time was 3-4 weeks. However, i felt pain while taking showers as hey had cut my rib cage.
Skylar: What kind of precautions for heart attacks and other cardiac issues did you take before?
Kash: I really did not know that I would be having a heart attack, so I did not take any precautions. Frankly, I did not feel the need for any precautions nor did anybody (including my cardiologist) tell me to take any precautions.
Skylar: What kind of precautions do you take now?
Kash: Now, I really do not take any particular precautions, except taking certain medications as prescribed by my cardiologist. I feel fine except that I feel shortness of breath if I am walking fast or climbing stairs. Also I cannot carry heavy weight, particularly going upstairs. Otherwise, I can perform all my daily duties. I [also] tell this to everyone that you can have a heart attack WITHOUT any shoulder pain.
The tests Kash got when he visited his cardiologist were unable to detect the plaques that began to block his arteries. Without that information, he was unable to anticipate needing to prepare for a heart attack. Most importantly, during the moments before the heart attack, he never experienced any defining symptoms until it was too late to call for help on his own. This is where Skylar comes into play.