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Heart patient to men: "Don't be an idiot."


Naperville Sun HealthAware column:

67-year-old on mission to save heart
February 4, 2013

A former athlete and kids’ coach, Mike Wojnowski, 67, isn’t one to mince words.

“Don’t be an idiot,” he says. “If you’re middle-aged or older and have any symptoms that could mean a heart attack, get medical help.”

Chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack, but it doesn’t happen in all cases. Shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue and upper body discomfort are other possible symptoms.

The Montgomery resident says he knows firsthand how men, especially, can let their egos get in the way of asking for help. He came close to dying last summer after several months of ignoring mild cardiac symptoms. And he hadn’t visited a doctor in 43 years.

The shortness of breath and pain in his right shoulder and chest could no longer be ignored the weekend of Aug. 18. He felt progressively worse from Saturday to Sunday as he rode his bike in temperatures topping 100 degrees.

“But I thought nothing serious could be happening to my strong, manly body. I didn’t mention this to my wife, Betty,” he says. “She would have tried to get me to the doctor. And I didn’t want to worry her.”

What Wojnowski didn’t know was that avoiding medical care set Betty up for a bigger dose of worry than he could have imagined.

By Monday, Mike reluctantly agreed to see Betty’s physician, Mark Yarshen, of the Edward Medical Group in Oswego. An EKG showed Wojnowski had suffered a heart attack. Dr. Yarshen quickly ordered an ambulance to take his patient to the nearest hospital. He developed atrial fibrillation, a condition marked by a quick and chaotic heartbeat, and was put on life support.

The next day Wojnowski was airlifted to a downtown Chicago hospital where he underwent testing, including an X-ray of blood vessels called an angiogram, to find out more about his condition and to help doctors plan a course of treatment. During the procedure, Wojnowski’s heart stopped, but staff were able to revive him.

He needed surgery to replace his damaged heart valves and to create bypasses around two blocked coronary arteries. He was put on a balloon pump overnight to help his heart pump blood while he rested up for the six- to eight-hour surgery.

In all, Wojnowski spent 33 days in the hospital, underwent three surgeries, and suffered a complication that caused him to temporarily lose his vision. Betty was on hand for all of this, taking off several weeks from her job as a reading specialist.

“I felt it was important to stay at the hospital to hear what the various doctors had to say,” she recalls.

Now Mike is home and exceeding everyone’s expectations in cardiac rehab.

“I work out daily on my own and go to therapy twice a week,” he says. “I feel 100 percent better than I did four months ago.

“I appreciate all the medical personnel did to save my life, but Betty is the angel. If by telling my story, I can prevent one person from ignoring symptoms and putting his loved ones through all the stress she went through, I’ll be happy.”

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