Heart Attacks, Esophageal Spasms, Oh My!

Alan BraunsteinContributor ISeptember 20, 2010

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 1: Coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans directs play against the Georgia Bulldogs at the 2009 Capital One Bowl at the Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2009 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

If you read the latest NCAAF headlines, you've seen that Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio suffered a mild cardiac event after the game Saturday.  And almost a year ago there was a similar story regarding Urban Meyer's health.  I'm here to tell you just how series this issues are—and I know, because they happened to me too.

Six and a half years ago, at the ripe old age of 37, I suffered my first cardiac event. I had the classic symptoms - a heavy weight on my chest, and a tingling left arm.  In fact, my left arm was ringing, not tingling.  I went to the ER, but they couldn't find a thing wrong with me in the four hours they poked and prodded. The EKG showed nothing abnormal whatsoever.  Eventually I walked out of the ER, unwilling to continue being their pin-cushion.

A year and a half later, 39 years old at this point, I had another event. This was more subtle; I was short of breath walking at a strolling pace just two blocks on a Friday night. Later in the weekend that would turn to a pain identical to heart burn. It didn't help matters that I ate spicy chili one night on which I kept blaming the persistent heartburn.  Finally, on Sunday, I went to the local ER and after six hours of tests, they found nothing ... again. However, this time the head of the ER convinced me to stay for more tests.

Thirteen hours after walking in the door of the ER, the blood tests finally started to reveal the troponins released into the blood when you have a cardiac event.  Thirteen hours! In the end they'd find I had three blockages; one 100% blockage, for which my heart created its own bypass, one 98% and one 92%. I wound up with two stents in my RCA (right coronary artery) and one stent in my LDA (left descending anterior artery - aka: "the widow maker").

Had I walked out the door from the ER this time, I'd have dropped dead within five weeks and been labeled as having died from "Jim Fixx Syndrome," as I was the picture of health due to a great fitness regimen and good eating habits.

At this point I'm 40, and fairly distressed that I'm apparently going to live my life with heart problems. It's been two years since my last event, and I'm feeling a similar pain as I did in my last bout with a cardiac event. My cardiologist recommended I speak with a gastroenterologist, from whom I found that I was suffering from esophageal spasms, this time, as a result of acid reflux issues.

Did you get that part? I was suffering from esophageal spasms and it felt identical to when I suffered my previous heart attack.

My point in sharing this information is three-fold:
1. Chest pains, be it from esophageal spasms or cardiac distress, are damn serious,
2. Coach or no coach, you should watch your health regardless your fit physique, and
3. Joke or not about Urban Meyer's resign/un-resign announcements of 2009, you should understand exactly where he was coming from.  I do!

Be well.