Beating Heart Disease: Diagnosis Angina

Patch editor Tom Abate underwent coronary artery bypass surgery to treat heart disease. This is the second in a series of blogs sharing his journey from diagnosis to recovery.



I knew in advance what my diagnosis would be. Heart disease ran in my family. Two of my uncles and one aunt died of heart attacks when I was a boy. My father’s death was the closest and scariest example of my susceptibility to the nation’s leading cause of death.

Dad was a strong figure and a stern disciplinarian. We weren’t always close. When I rebelled in my teens it caused a split that lasted almost a decade. I had enlisted in the Navy to get away from home and ended up California, which was about as far as I could get from New York City and still be on the U.S. mainland.

I was given my father's name. It was not until I moved away that I shook the family nickname of “Baby Tommy.” My father was Tom Abate, the man who had remodeled his house from basement to attic, the only college graduate in a family of more than a dozen kids. He had a few distinctive habits. He brushed his hair every night for about 15 minutes, first forward over his forehead and then straight back. His hair stayed black and full until shortly before his death.

When I flew back to New York to visit him after a massive heart attack, I barely recognized the gaunt man with the wispy gray hair who lay on the hospital bed, as light as a feather pillow. Dad’s disease had progressed to congestive heart failure, a condition in which the weakened muscle can no longer pump enough blood to nourish the body. Death comes from wasting away.

I had duly reported this to my doctors over the years. I had tried to watch my diet and exercise. I kept track of my cholesterol, which was under the recommended limits. I did not smoke, a factor that had contributed to dad’s demise just a few months shy of his 58th birthday -- the same age as I am now.

So I was not at all surprised when my general practitioner, Dr. Vin Sawhney, said the burning chest pain sounded like angina, a condition that occurs when fat deposits clog the arteries to the heart and rob it of the blood that is required to power the pump.

Sawhney gave me a simple EKG test to see if I was in immediate danger. When it read normal he referred me to a cardiologist for an exercise stress test, a procedure that takes electrical readings of the heart while the subject walks on a treadmill. Sawhney called the cardiologist to make sure I was seen quickly. Things were beginning to escalate.

(See an archive of the blogs in this series.)



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Seth-Deborah of Hypnotherapy for Health July 30, 2012 at 03:03 PM
You might want to consider the Dr. Esselstyn Diet (out of the Cleveland Clinic) that Bill Clinton went on. My husband did and his heart vessels opened. It is basically vegan and no oil. http://heartattackproof.com/
Dan Arnhem July 30, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Clinton also worked with Dr. Dean Ornish. There is a entire group of respected doctors who think along the same lines. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dean Ornish, Joel Fuhrman, John McDougall, Neal Barnard and of course the long time Pritikin Program. All have basic books explaining their version. They agree on most, but not all, of the basic points. Initially Clinton followed the programs half way, even after his bypass operation. Then he got a few serious clues showing him he needed to do more and suprisingly he went full-on with the program. Now you see the fairly dramatic changes in his weight and his advocacy. However, the weight loss result is more a side benefit and not the main aim of the dietary change which he did primarily for heart health. We all wish you well in your recovery and future health, Tom.
Mitch Huitema July 30, 2012 at 06:51 PM
I have a couple of Dean Ornish books, including a recipe book, if you'd like to borrow them. Del was on that diet for a long time (mostly) which may account for his ability to live so long after his heart issues were discovered (that and 13 stents). I found it fairly simple to swing our diets fairly far in that direction just by taking some methods from his books and applying them to recipes I already used. For example, I made Mia's polenta recipe just last night using only 1/2 T of canola oil (instead of 1 stick of butter and 1/4 cup of olive oil), fat free chicken stock, and 4 cups of non-fat milk (instead of 2 cups half-and-half and 2 cups whole milk). It tasted just as good without all of that fat.
Mike July 30, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Dr Ornish's diet is very restrictive and most folks find it hard to follow. Robert Kowalski is a medical writer who had 2 bypass surgeries by the time he was in his 30's and developed a diet which is easier to follow and he also reports on how it effects him(his arteries are more open then ever before) http://www.amazon.com/The-New-8-Week-Cholesterol-Cure/dp/0060564601 Also locally Dr Ranveig Elvebaak a bariatric doctor(not surgeon) has developed a diet, her web site is www.foodtreemd.com
Tom Abate July 31, 2012 at 05:07 PM
You guys are a day ahead of me. I "come out" as a vegan in the next installment. But let's keep that our surprise for now.


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