Knowing is Half the Battle


By Sarah Sekula, published in Florida Hospital’s Best in Care Magazine

It was the Monday before Thanksgiving in 2013. Jeff Sweeney, then 55, of Winter Park, was running on his home treadmill. As someone who exercised regularly, he’d just received a clean bill of health a month earlier during an annual physical — including perfect cholesterol readings.

So the words “heart attack” never crossed Jeff’s mind.

Yet he was having chest discomfort and tightness, both classic symptoms. In disbelief, Jeff’s wife, Alicia, called 9-1-1. EMS personnel quickly arrived, and as they were driving Jeff to the hospital, he had a second heart attack in the ambulance.

When Jeff arrived at Florida Hospital Orlando, Chin Kim, MD, interventional cardiologist, performed an emergency heart catheterization with stent placement in Jeff’s right coronary artery.

“The procedure allows us to look at his coronary arteries (arteries that provide blood flow to the heart) to locate the blockage that’s causing the heart attack,” explains Dr. Kim. “Once the blockage is identified, in this case in his right coronary artery, we can open the artery with a balloon and place a stent to restore blood flow to the heart and abort the heart attack.”

The cause of any heart attack is almost always from ruptured plaque. In Jeff’s case, he had mild plaque buildup in his artery.

“The plaque became unstable, and then a piece broke off,” says Dr. Kim. “This leads to a reaction that causes a clot to develop that eventually completely occludes the artery, causing the heart attack.”

But Jeff was in exceptional health. What would have caused this?

“All too often we see heart attacks occur in very healthy people who have no risk factors,” says Dr. Kim. “One of the main reasons is the difficulty in predicting who is at risk for having a heart attack. In general, risk factors for heart attacks include smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes and family history. Age is also a risk factor. As we get older, our risk of heart attacks increases, generally starting at the age of 50 in men, and 60 in women.”

Luckily, in this situation, Jeff reacted immediately to his symptoms. “The main reason he did so well was because of how quickly we were able to get the artery open from the time that it occluded,” Dr. Kim says. “The quicker we can get the artery open, the less heart muscle is damaged, the less severe the heart attack is.”

Despite all the advances that have been made in evaluating and treating heart attacks, it still remains the No. 1 killer of American men and women.

So what’s the best way to prevent a heart attack? Have a health professional assess your risk factors for heart disease and discuss ways of modifying those risk factors. And the best way to survive one? Never be too cautious or careful, Dr. Kim says. If you suspect that something might be going on with your heart, seek medical attention immediately.

Jeff says he’s fortunate to be only 10 minutes away from Florida Hospital Orlando and even more so that he was in the right place when his heart attack occurred. He’s thankful it didn’t happen on I-95 the night before, when he and his 16-year-old son, Hamilton, were driving back from a soccer tournament in South Carolina.

“Dr. Kim was able to treat me with the utmost care, and 30 days later I was back on the treadmill at home,” Jeff says. “Florida Hospital caregivers are unique. I am forever grateful.”

Now, as a member of the Florida Hospital Foundation Cardiovascular Institute board of directors, Jeff shares his passion for health and ensures others in our community have access to the same great care he received.