Dr. Tony Kim of Yakima Heart Center discusses broken heart syndrome..
Nash Mazza was used to working long days jam-packed with a hefty load of stress. But this one day, Feb. 26, 2016, (he’ll never forget it) Nash felt a sharp pain in his left arm. Tightness and pain in his chest. Nash, 41 years old, was having a heart attack.
“At my age, you don’t think about that,” he said.
Fortunately, as the director of environmental services for Virginia Mason Memorial hospital, he didn’t have far to go for help. Staff called a Code Blue and, using his office chair as an ambulance, wheeled him directly from his office into the Emergency Department.
Nash made it. However, doctors discovered he was suffering from severe blockage in his coronary arteries. On March 3 he had open-heart surgery, a quintuple bypass.
Nash got the message. “If I had this at home, I probably would have died,” he says.
Then he made a plan. Almost 12 months later he’d lost 70 pounds and became that guy who begins his days with an hour of cardio, heads to the gym after work and plans healthy menus for every meal.
Nash’s cardiologist, Dr. Dave Krueger of the Yakima Heart Center, is passionate about drilling home his message of a healthy lifestyle as the best way to ward off heart health issues. he says.
Major cardiovascular diseases – heart disease and stroke – are the leading cause of death in Yakima County and throughout the United States. High cholesterol, obesity and high blood pressure are the three leading factors.
“We exercise less than we think. We eat more than we think,” says Krueger. “But you really do need to change your life. That means 45 minutes of exercise every day, eating a healthy diet – and absolutely no smoking. I don’t care if you’re 18 or 80! If you exercise every day you’ll feel better, live longer and happier, and, you’ll be more aware of how you feel.”
Of the 1,000 people who die suddenly in America of cardiovascular disease each day, half had warning signs. Nash had a big one in autumn 2015. He went to get a new prescription for his glasses and the exam showed eye trauma. “Hardening of the arteries,” says Krueger. “The back of your eye has small arteries; you can actually see the hardening.”
Mazza knew he should go see his doctor. But he was busy. He had a staff of 90 and hardly enough time to eat. When he did, it was fast food and Coke Cola. He also knew about his family history: A grandmother and two uncles died of heart attacks. His birth mother has diabetes.
Nash stands 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 280 pounds. He knew he was overweight, but he still didn’t think he could have a heart attack. But the signs were there. The day before, Nash woke up with a heartburn kind of feeling. The day it happened, he felt “weird.”
But that’s all behind him now, and Nash’s cardiologist, Dr. Krueger, would like everyone to know that even with inherited traits for heart disease, “You can change your life. A healthy lifestyle is the best medicine.”
Dr. Casey Prather first arrived in Yakima during medical school rotations 2009. Casey is from Kentucky, and he really wanted to stay close to home. But rotations are assigned by lottery. He came in last, and out west he went.
“We met a couple weeks after Casey came here,” says Nicole, a Yakima native who grew up in the Barge-Chestnut neighborhood and graduated from Eisenhower High School. “We were engaged in three months and got married less than a year from when we met.”
When you know, you know.
But the rotation ended, and residency awaited back east, in Lancaster, Pa. “When Casey finished his residency in Pennsylvania he got a job at one of the hospitals there,” says Nicole. “We stayed about two-and-a-half years, but I really wanted to come back to Yakima. Casey wanted to come back, too. All my friends are here, I grew up here. We both wanted to get back to friends and the outdoors and the food, the wineries.”
When you know, you know.
“It was kind of a quick thing,” she continues. “My best friend got married last summer, and we came back for the wedding. Casey noticed there was a position open at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital, and I said, ‘Yeah, let’s give it a shot!’ “
Long story short, the Prathers are back (as a family of three with daughter Genevieve, age 5). They moved into their West Valley home on Jan. 20, 2018. Casey started work as an anesthesiologist at VMM nine days later. “It felt like home right away,” Nicole says.
“Since we’ve been here we’ve done so many things with our friends. I’m at the stage now where most of my friends are having babies, so it’s an exciting time to be back. A lot of our friends are working and starting companies. People in Yakima are so friendly. We came back and were immediately connected, which was a far cry from Pennsylvania — we didn’t know anybody.
“I told Casey that when people move here we have to be ones to reach out and make them feel welcome.
“We met. We fell in love. We got married. We had a baby. He got a job. We came home.”
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The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women vs. men, and are often misunderstood. Sometimes, women can have a heart attack without chest pain. Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:
■ Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
■ Shortness of breath
■ Pain in one or both arms
■ Nausea or vomiting
■ Lightheadedness or dizziness
■ Unusual fatigue
— Source: www.cdc.gov
David Jones is an area manager for Goodwill, and sometimes his job requires that he drive to Tacoma for meetings. One Sunday, about four years ago, he did just that, heading out a day early so he could be ready to go the next morning.
On the drive west, however, David didn’t feel well. “I thought it was indigestion, heartburn. And I was a little nauseous,” he says.
But David, 59, had a job to do. He attended the meeting and drove himself home afterward. By this time, though, David was quite ill. “When I got home I was vomiting. I was white as a sheet, and I was in a cold sweat.”
David knew something was horribly wrong. His daughter called 911, but she couldn’t get through. All the circuits from her cell network provider were busy. David and his daughter began to panic. “We could have used my phone, but we weren’t thinking,” he says. “I drove myself in. I wouldn’t even let my daughter do it. But, I have to say, if you want service in the Emergency Department, go in there clutching your chest,” he says, finding a sliver of humor in the most frightening day of his life.
The result? Three days in the hospital. Two stents (installed by Dr. Thomas McLaughlin of the Yakima Heart Center). 99 percent blockage in the main artery. David had a heart attack.
“It really changes your life,” he says quietly over a cup of coffee. “Before this I used to think, how do I get more money in my 401K? How do I get a bigger boat? And afterward I thought, when was the last time I told my wife I love her?
“It changed my whole perspective.”
David’s two daughters and a Virginia Mason Memorial nurse, who was now off-duty, stayed with David until his wife, Lori, could get to the hospital.
“The key takeaway for me was life-changing,” he says.
David, a longtime heavy smoker, immediately quit cigarettes. It was also discovered that he was prediabetic. But, he said to himself, “that’s one pill I’m not going to take.” David and Lori, in support, started attending Virginia Mason Memorial’s year-long Diabetes Prevention Program. They learned how to calculate the fat grams, and to incorporate more fruit, vegetables and yogurt into their diet.
They got hooked on the program, and then became competitive in their quest for good health.
“We didn’t start exercising right away, but then we started going to the YMCA three or four times a week, working out on the treadmill, track and with weights. I lost 35 pounds, and my wife lost over 40!
“We swear by the Diabetes Prevention Program.
“What happened to me was a gift, because I had the classic widow-maker. If you’re anybody — man, woman — and you have symptoms, go to the Emergency Department.
“I had no pain in my arm, but it felt like a cramp in my chest. The doctor asked me when the pain started, and I told him, “About two weeks into Mariners season.” Then I was out, in full cardiac arrest. We joked that those would have been my final words.
“But that was four years ago.”