Routine Exam Reveals Deadly Heart Problem
When Gilbert Lopes flew from his home in Bermuda to Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in 2015 for his annual physical, he had no idea he’d soon be having lifesaving heart surgery. He told his doctor at Lahey’s Executive Health program, Bruce Campbell, MD, that he had been experiencing a little chest tightness and breathlessness when he jogged, but otherwise he felt fine.
The developer of luxury condos, now 67, has a family history of heart disease. A former marathon runner, Lopes jogged regularly, avoided smoking and was careful to eat a balanced diet. He has been coming to Lahey for 25 years for a stress test and echocardiogram to look for signs of heart problems. An echocardiogram is a simple and painless procedure that uses sound waves to take “pictures” of the heart.
The morning after his echocardiogram, Campbell called Lopes and asked him to come in for follow-up testing. In September, Lopes had a coronary angiogram, a minimally invasive procedure that uses X-ray technology to determine if the coronary arteries are blocked or narrowed, where and by how much. Lahey cardiologist Bruce Mirbach, MD, found a blockage in a key artery.
At risk of a “massive heart attack”
“I asked what my choices were, and Dr. Mirbach told me that without surgery, I was at risk of a massive heart attack,” Lopes recalled. He immediately agreed to have the operation, which was performed by Richard D’Agostino, MD, at Lahey the next day. The double bypass surgery created new routes for blood to travel into the heart, bypassing the blockage. This restored normal blood supply to the organ.
The condition Lopes had is commonly known as a “widow maker,” Mirbach said, noting that Lopes did the right thing by having regular check-ups. “For people such as Mr. Lopes with a significant family history of heart disease, it’s very important to do as he did and go for regular physicals,” he said.
“My understanding of a heart attack was that you have all these pains beforehand — I didn’t realize you could be otherwise healthy and still have one,” Lopes said. “It was my genes — that was the hand I was dealt. I know I might not be here today if I hadn’t had that exam that picked up a problem.”
His recovery after the surgery was slow but steady. He was back home in Bermuda three weeks later. He went on a strict low-fat diet and gave up alcohol. He began exercising a little bit each day, and is back to jogging. He comes to Lahey every six months for a checkup. “Believe it or not, it’s easier to get an appointment with my doctors at Lahey than with a local cardiologist,” Lopes said. “I know if I needed to see my Lahey doctors tomorrow, I could fly up and see them.”
Lopes is extremely grateful to everyone who took care of him. His experience reinforced his initial positive reaction during his first visit many years ago, which led him to become an annual donor to Lahey.
“When I first came to Lahey, I was so impressed with the hospital and how it was being run,” he said. “When I had my surgery, the care I received was second to none,” he said. “Everyone, from the doctors and nurses who treated me, to the person who wheeled me to get X-rays, was top notch. They helped me in every way they could.”