Surviving a Heart Attack

Organization: Service: Story Topics:
Heart Disease

The day after his forty-ninth birthday, San Clemente resident David Koch collapsed from a heart attack after getting out of his backyard Jacuzzi. Just two years earlier, he’d lost his wife to a brain tumor, leaving him a single parent. Now his two children watched helplessly as their father struggled to survive. Eleven-year-old Elizabeth sprung into action and called 9-1-1, while 8-year-old Andrew waited at the front door for paramedics to arrive.

Although David remembers little of what happened that day, he still recalls “the unbearable pain, as if all my muscles had seized up.” Unlike the heart attacks he’d seen on TV, there was no chest pain—just a tightness in his upper back. When the fire department team arrived, he went into full cardiac arrest. Once the paramedics revived him, they rushed David to the emergency department at Saddleback Memorial-San Clemente where he was stabilized and assessed. Soon after, he was transported to Saddleback Memorial Medical Center-Laguna Hills. The continuum of care was seamless with emergency department physicians and cardiologists at both locations communicating throughout the process.

Forty minutes later, David underwent an emergency angioplasty and stent placement at the Saddleback Memorial cardiac catheterization lab. The procedure was performed by Dr. Daniel LaMont, M.D., a Saddleback Memorial cardiologist. “David's left coronary artery was 100 percent blocked, which caused his heart attack and cardiac arrest,“ says Dr. LaMont. “Until recently, the treatment of choice would have been bypass surgery. But angioplasty in combination with medication-coated stents is now a viable alternative for certain patients.“ The medicated stent coating discourages the formation of scar tissue at the site of the angioplasty, preventing the renarrowing of the artery.

After less than a week in the hospital, David was well on the way to regaining his energy and stamina. Almost immediately after his attack, he began cardiac rehab at Saddleback Memorial and participates in the program faithfully. “I’ve been told my life should be as normal as before,” he says. In retrospect, he marvels at the medical teamwork that kept him alive. “It was really a miracle that so many specialists and resources were ready the minute I needed them. Everyone at Saddleback Memorial worked above and beyond the call of duty.”

A self-admitted fitness fanatic, David is also acutely aware of how important it is for people to recognize the signs of a heart attack (see box below). “I always knew that chest pain was a heart-attack symptom, but wasn’t aware of other warning signs,” he says. “I thought I was in great shape before my attack. My total cholesterol was 114, my blood pressure was normal, I played tennis several times a week, followed a healthy diet and didn’t drink or smoke.” But just two weeks earlier, the super athlete was forced to stop in the middle of a tennis match due to extreme breathlessness, accompanied by intense upper back pain—both signs of heart trouble. He now recognizes that he may have been having a heart attack on the tennis court. “My brother and grandfather all had fatal heart attacks before age 50,” he says. “But like many people, I was in a state of denial about heart disease. I’m just grateful my kids and I will have the chance to be together.”

Heart Attack Symptoms

  • Pain, pressure, fullness or squeezing in the chest
  • Pain in the upper back, shoulders, neck or jaw
  • Pain in the right or left arm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heartburn and/or indigestion
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Chest discomfort that causes anxiety or concern