A Christmas Eve emergency starts with a heart attack.

Beating the widow maker

Ira Neal Hr Swrmc Cardiac Heart Attack

Ira Neal is no stranger to stress. A Vietnam War veteran and a Newport News police officer, he has dealt with traumatic events. In the mid 90s, a fellow officer was gunned down and another was killed. Through all this, Ira continued to protect his community. He even received the distinguished Life-Saving Award for performing CPR on a heart attack victim. When he retired in 2005, he weighed 250 pounds and realized he needed to make healthier choices. By December 2013, Ira’s weight went down to 190. He was 71 and taking charge of his health.

But not everything was on track.

On Christmas Eve, he was at his son's house when he felt strange. It wasn’t the first time: For the past two months he had been slightly short of breath, but, at age 71, he thought it was part of getting older. He blamed heartburn that Dec. 24 and grabbed a bottle of Tums. The next morning, Ira's wife, Lori, noticed he was holding his chest and checked his blood pressure. It was 199/120. Not possible, they thought. The monitor must be broken. Ira took some more Tums.

After arriving at his wife’s aunt’s house, Ira went back to the car to get presents. He broke out in a cold sweat, and his vision blurred. He felt tired and thought maybe he would take a quick nap in the car. Yet something told him if he did that, he would never wake up. When he turned to go back into the house, he thought someone had smashed him in the chest with a 2 x 4 board. 

From the house to the hospital

"Sentara was like walking into heaven," said Ira, remembering his arrival to Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center. It took him a moment to realize that the large group was waiting for him.

"It was so well orchestrated, you could have put music to it," Ira joked. They rushed him to the cath lab. In an instant, he was looking up at Dr. Das, who was saying he was going to be fine. Ira's procedure was over. The surgeons had implanted a stent to keep the artery open. He had beaten the “widow maker,” a heart attack where the left anterior descending artery, which supplies blood to a large portion of the left side of the heart, is blocked and the left/front side of the heart can lose its blood supply. When this happens, the patient only has minutes before the muscle dies.

Ira is grateful to everyone.

Three days a week he attended cardiac rehab at Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center where he learned to exercise, eat right and manage stress. He was impressed with the mental health services in rehab that can be helpful for survivors to continue their recovery.

“I’d go back to that place in the drop of a hat,” he proclaimed, referring to Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center.  


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