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Cinnaminson Man Feels Lucky To Be Alive After Brushing Off Subtle Heart Attack Symptoms

Pain in his shoulder and arm wasn't a red flag for Dean Eson. But, as his pain worsened, he took his doctor's advice to see a cardiologist—and it saved his life.

Updated March 26, 2021

The last thing Dean Eson wanted to do was go to the hospital. So, when the 68-year-old Cinnaminson resident started feeling subtle signs of a heart attack in August, he brushed them off.

After all, aside from high blood pressure that came with his 6-foot, 7-inch frame, he didn’t have heart disease. And, with the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, the thought of going to the emergency room wasn’t exactly appealing.

“I wasn’t in any type of distress, but I had a pain down my shoulder and arm. I had been moving things, so it didn’t strike me as anything to worry about,” he said. “I didn’t feel debilitating pain—I just thought I needed to calm down and take a shower.”

By 2 a.m., the pain had increased, but Dean still didn’t think it warranted calling 9-1-1. He decided to call his Virtua primary care doctor, Richard Levine, MD, in the morning. Dr. Levine suggested he go to the emergency room, but Dean again expressed reluctance.

Dr. Levine turned to plan B. He asked Dean if he would see a cardiologist that day if he could secure an appointment for him. Dean agreed, and Dr. Levine made the appointment.

Plan B turned into a lifesaving decision

Dean drove himself to the Virtua Health & Wellness Center in Cherry Hill to see cardiologist John Hamaty, DO. Alarmed at the findings of his physical exam and EKG, Dr. Hamaty gave Dean nitroglycerin tablets to widen his coronary arteries and reduce his chest pain, and he called an ambulance to take him to the emergency room at Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital.

“It was a blur,” recalled Dean. “There were people all over. I was put on a gurney and taken to the catheterization lab.”

Dean learned he had what’s called a “widow maker,” a type of heart attack caused by a 100 percent blockage of the left anterior descending (LAD) artery—a major pipeline that brings blood to the heart. If not cleared, a blockage in that artery can be fatal.

“It’s a misconception that you can’t come to the hospital because of coronavirus. But, Dean didn’t want to think he was having a heart attack OR come to the hospital,” said Adam Levine, DO, medical director of the cardiac catheterization lab at Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes. Dr. Levine performed cardiac catheterization to open Dean’s artery and inserted two stents. “Time is muscle,” said Dr. Levine. “The longer you wait, the more permanent damage is done.”

Dean remained conscious during the angioplasty and, as a retired engineer, asked Dr. Levine questions about how the procedure worked and what he was using to clear the artery.

“I was trying to understand what he was doing, and learn about the stents he was using,” said Dean. “He answered my questions and showed me an image on the screen of the half of my heart that had no blood flow. He said I was lucky to be alive.”

Two hours after he arrived at Dr. Hamaty’s office, Dean was recovering from his procedure.

“I felt a surge of energy,” he said. “I wanted to go repaint the hospital or do something constructive. The transformation from how I felt before the procedure to after was amazing.”

A pandemic doesn't get in the way of kind, compassionate medical care

Dean praised the Virtua medical team for providing outstanding, integrated clinical care that reassured him and his husband that he was in the best of hands. “Each and every person showed concern, compassion, empathy, and most importantly, kindness and patience, every hour of every day of my hospital stay.”

He also had kind words for the environmental and food services teams who cleaned his room and kept him well fed until his discharge. “I think the food was fabulous,” he said. “It kept me happy and feeling good, which you don’t hear about hospital food.”

While Dean ultimately had a positive outcome, he cautions others not to ignore possible symptoms of a heart attack. Call 9-1-1 to get immediate care.

“I was almost too late,” he said. “It’s not always a case of having so much pain you can’t function.”

Dr. Levine echoed Dean’s advice: “The people who come in right away to have that blood flow restored can regain heart function with minimal damage. If you wait too long and the cells die, you can’t get them back.”

Comprehensive cardiac care is just a heartbeat away

Looking for a cardiologist? Get an appointment with a Virtua heart specialist within 48 hours. Call 856-363-0696.

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