Lakeland Health Care

Patient Stories

Celebrating Survivors

heart_brian_heidenfelder.jpg
Diagnosed at age 37
Treatment: Emergency Angioplasty

37-Year-Old Man Recovers from "Widow-Making" Heart Attack
Brian Heidenfelder

He didn’t believe it when it was happening to him. Not even several days later: he was not the kind of person this happened to. He had no family history of it, either. “We call this a Widow-Maker,” the doctor told him. “You were lucky. You dodged a bullet.”
“Oh, no,” he told them. “I dodged a couple of Cruise missiles.”

Brian Heidenfelder was 37 years old, 6 feet tall, 180 pounds with a cholesterol count of 130 when he had his heart attack. The St. Joseph resident had had back spasms that morning. He drove home at lunchtime. His arms felt “kinda weird.” It seemed stupid to call an ambulance. He drove himself to the emergency room.

The nurse at Lakeland Regional Medical Center knew immediately that something
was wrong. She got him in a wheelchair. Before he knew it, six nurses were “putting
stuff on me.” Dr. Chiu told him he was having a heart attack. No way, he said. They
brought out an EKG monitor so he could see for himself.

Less than an hour from the time Brian walked in, he’d had an emergency angioplasty. When he woke up in recovery, his nurse, Mark Acker, was there. “Do you need anything? Can I call your family for you?” he asked. “I need a Diet Pepsi,” Brian said. “I couldn’t believe it. He came back with a Diet Pepsi. And that was what was so amazing about this place. There were a hundred little things that everyone—I mean, everyone— did for me. They’d come in and explain things to me. Mark put together a little booklet to show me what had happened to me, so I’d understand. He brought me a cordless
phone so I could call my family. Nurses even brought me Starbucks.

“That first night, I was so afraid. But the nurse stayed with me and explained what was going on. I was in denial, but so afraid. Heart attacks happen to old people, overweight people, people with a family history. Not people like me. It was a hard pill for me to swallow. Someone from social work helped me deal with it.

“When my family came from Chicago and Detroit, they were so good to them. My family
will tell you, they handled them beautifully.

“My family wanted me to transfer to larger hospitals in Detroit or Chicago. But I know something about those big hospitals. I never would’ve gotten this kind of care there. I felt like I was a VIP at a five-star hotel.

“Instead of walking away being angry, depressed and scared, I walked away with an
understanding of what happened to me. I understood the severity of it.

“My doctors were phenomenal. They’re my heroes. They explained everything in
easy-to-understand language. When I see Dr. Palmer now, it’s like seeing a long-lost friend. When I go to Dr. Chiu’s office, I want to tell the world how he took care of me.

“When you come into a hospital under these circumstances, you’re not at your
best. In spite of the way I was acting, they went above and beyond. I don’t know how
I would’ve dealt with my health issues if it hadn’t been for these people.

“I don’t think I’d be listening to my doctors like I am if it weren’t for how good they
treated me. Treatment—how you define it—it’s not always medical. I got the best of
both kinds of treatment.

“I don’t think people appreciate how good Lakeland is. People don’t realize how lucky
they are to have a place like this. I’ve never had the experience where I almost want
to have another heart attack so I can go back there.”
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