Active and fit, Bob Johnston brushed off subtle signs of heart trouble until he couldn't ignore them any longer-and a heart attack landed him squarely in Doylestown Hospital's Emergency Department.
By all outward appearances, Buckingham resident Bob Johnston seemed like the picture of health. The successful 68-year-old businessman and avid gardener enjoyed traveling and volunteering in his community, and worked out regularly at the gym. But beneath the surface, his body had another agenda: a heart attack.
On January 21, 2006, Bob had just finished his usual workout with a trainer at Cornerstone Fitness in Doylestown, where he'd been going several times a week since joining the club in 2000. He showered and made his way to the steam room. "That's when the boa constrictor went across my chest," he says.
For Jen Lambert, currently the Program Director at Cornerstone, that Saturday afternoon marked the first time she was the sole manager on duty at the club. "A club member came up to me at the service desk and said there was a gentleman having a heart attack in the locker room," she recalls. "We quickly cleared out the locker room and found Mr. Johnston sitting on a bench, having difficulty breathing. He described the classic symptoms of a heart attack, telling us he felt like there was a heavy weight on his chest."
Lambert called 911, and minutes later Bob was taken by ambulance to the Emergency Department at Doylestown Hospital. There, the E.D. staff performed an EKG (a noninvasive test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of the heart) and confirmed that Bob was, in fact, in the throes of a heart attack. Essentially, explains interventional cardiologist Joseph McGarvey Jr., MD, FACC, within one of Bob's heart arteries, a cholesterol plaque had ruptured and formed a clot that was closing off the artery, thereby causing that boa constrictor-like pain.
Within 60 minutes of his arrival at Doylestown Hospital, Bob was in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab receiving emergency angioplasty, a procedure used to open narrow or blocked coronary arteries and restore blood flow to the heart muscle. "That's our protocol," says Dr. McGarvey. "When a patient presents with acute symptoms and we see evidence of a cardiac event on an EKG, we immediately transport the patient to the Cath Lab for angioplasty; we can actually stop the heart attack in its tracks. Our system is fine-tuned to deliver the best care in the fastest way possible."
Fast, indeed. Whereas the nationwide goal "door-to-balloon time"-the minutes that pass from the time a heart attack patient enters a hospital to the time the blockage is cleared with angioplasty-is 90 minutes, at Doylestown Hospital the average door-to-balloon time is about 60 minutes, Dr. McGarvey reports. This protocol, among others, contributes to the hospital's impressive success rates in treating heart attacks. In fact, in a government study of hospitals nationwide, Doylestown Hospital was recognized for having the best heart-attack survival rate in the state of Pennsylvania, and the second-best in the nation (2012).
For Bob Johnston, survival came in the form of four stents placed within his clogged cardiac arteries. He spent three days recovering in the hospital, and celebrated his 69th birthday as an inpatient-not an ideal setting for a birthday celebration, but he felt lucky to be alive. "I have nothing but the highest praise for the hospital," he says.
Looking back, he admits he ignored some early signs leading up to his heart attack. During a trip abroad in early 2005, he hiked up a mountain, struggling the last 100 steep feet. At the mountain's peak, "my heart just ached," he says, but he brushed it off. Months later, at a high school reunion, he felt a "fluttering" in his heart-and again made nothing of it. But now, having survived one heart attack, he didn't want to experience another.
Following his heart attack, Bob completed Doylestown Hospital's Cardiac Rehab program, a professionally supervised exercise and education program for patients who have had a heart attack, heart surgery, or cardiac procedures such as angioplasty. He says his prior conditioning helped him with his rehab program: "It got me oriented to a good program of stretching, weights, and aerobics. The rehab program was almost a duplicate of what I had been doing."
Bob continues to work out several times a week at Cornerstone-"He's not just surviving, he's thriving," says Lambert-and he credits his wife, Amy, with helping him to maintain a low-sodium, low-fat diet. And this past September, when he felt "a little chest pain," he didn't ignore it as he had done in the past. Instead, he reached out to his doctor, and a cardiac nuclear stress test revealed narrowing in an artery. With another angioplasty, Dr. McGarvey went back into Bob's heart and placed one more stent.
Today, Bob shares one piece of advice: "Pay attention to the things that are going on in your body that are not normal," he says. "Have your annual physical and get those preventative screenings."
Dr. McGarvey shares some advice too: "If you're having heart attack symptoms, particularly chest pain or shortness of breath that's not going away, seek emergency care," he says. "Then leave the rest to us."