Living Well

When a Heart Attack Goes Unrecognized

When a Heart Attack Goes Unrecognized

On a Sunday morning, in February 2018, 46-year-old Dennis O’Brien was deep in sleep when he was awakened by severe chest pain. “I felt a lot of pain and decided to call my wife. My wife is a nurse, and she was at work,” says Dennis. His wife, Christie, thought he might be having a heart attack. Dennis was in disbelief and decided to drive himself to Touro Infirmary. “I thought I was having heart burn. I passed up about 5 hospitals to go to Touro Infirmary. I didn’t want to go anywhere else,” says Dennis. He arrived in the Emergency Room and the pain became worse. “After running test, I was told I was having a heart attack,” says Dennis.

What is the Impella Device?

Dennis O’Brien was rushed to the Cath Lab for an emergency angiogram performed by Interventional Cardiologist Frank Wilklow, M.D. Dennis had plaque buildup in his left anterior descending (LAD) artery, which ruptured and formed a blood clot; stopping blood flow in the largest artery in the heart known as the “widow maker”. He was having a severe cardiac arrest, and his ejection fraction, which is the percentage of blood pumped from the heart with each beat, was at 12 percent (normal= 55%).

The Impella Device was used during his surgery. The device supports the patient by temporarily assisting in moving blood through the heart and the rest of the organs in the body. It is guided to the heart through an artery. Once in place, the Impella heart pump unloads blood from the left ventricle and expels it in to the ascending aorta. “I believe this device helped save my life,” says Dennis. The device helped stabilize Dennis so Dr. Wilklow could place a stent in Dennis’s LAD.

The “Bromance”

Dennis O’Brien was in the procedure for over three hours. “I was told that he was critical, and he might not make it,” says Christie, Dennis’ wife. Dennis and his wife believe if he wasn’t at Touro Infirmary and under another physician’s care that he would not be alive today. Dr. Wilklow stayed with Dennis and his family until the next day and never left his side. “How many doctors will do that?” says Dennis. “He gave me his cell phone number, and everyone says we developed a bromance.” The Impella device was removed from Dennis’s heart the next day after surgery, and he stayed in the hospital under supervised care for 5 days. By the time the Impella device was removed the next day, Dennis’ ejection fraction had nearly quadrupled to 45%.

New Lease on Life

After his heart attack, Dennis is now committed to living a healthy lifestyle. “I used to lift weights before my heart attack but now I do cardio. I run at least once a week,” says Dennis. He has also made a few changes to his diet. “I receive follow-up care with Dr. Wilklow, and I text him if I have a question,” says Dennis. “He’s amazing, and I love him! He saved my life. I never met a doctor that put that much time into a patient.”

Dennis and his wife are truly grateful for the passionate care received by Dr. Wilklow and Touro Infirmary. Recently, Dennis discovered that Dr. Wilklow was his grandmother’s physician for years. “She was 99-years-old when she passed away, and she liked her physician. I just never knew it was him,” says Dennis. “He told me that he has performed thousands of procedures. He is committed to every patient.”