That’s how Apache Junction’s Donna Vicklun, 76, describes her past experiences with heart attacks.
“I had another heart attack in January. That was my third one and I’ve been very, very lucky because now that’s three heart attacks and I have no permanent damage to my heart,” Vicklun told the Tribune last week.
With a new device created to warn patients before a heart attack comes, Vicklun’s luck may continue.
On March 10, Vicklun underwent an hourlong surgery at Mesa’s Banner Heart Hospital. Doctors installed an investigative AngelMed Guardian under her skin. The device attaches to her heart to give minute-by-minute EKG (electrocardiograph) readings.
Because there are changes in the heart sometimes hours before a heart attack happens, the device can warn wearers if they should visit a doctor or even get straight to an emergency room.
Dr. Alphonse Ambrosia is overseeing the study at Banner Heart Hospital. Since it began last fall, five patients have received the Guardian at the Mesa facility, with 150 receiving it nationwide.
“The device is designed for us to monitor people closer to pick up on a recurrent heart attack at a quicker rate,” he said.
Ambrosia said about 10 percent of people who have a heart attack will have another one. That number rises with age or other factors, such as diabetes or whether or not a person has had bypass surgery. Many of the patients undergoing the study with Ambrosia are 65 and older, he said.
Vicklun said the device hasn’t slowed her down, though she has to be careful not to use a phone near her device. And while she can feel it under her arm, it’s becoming more comfortable. It’s made up of two parts: an internal part with a wire connected to the heart and an external piece that looks like a pager.
Vicklun wasn’t 100 percent sold on the idea when she first heard about the Guardian. She had her first heart attack in 1997 at age 63. Her heart history includes several blockages followed by surgeries to put in stents, artificial tubes that open up blocked arteries.
Her brother, two sisters and mother all died from heart problems.
“I was really very apprehensive at first,” she said. But after sitting down with the cardiologist, the nurse and the technician, she was ready.
“I’m still excited about it,” she said.
Ambrosia said the device is working the way it should: Last weekend one of his patients came into the emergency room because of a signal on the pager.
The pager went off about 10 minutes before the patient started to feel chest pains, Ambrosia said. Though it wasn’t a heart attack, it was an acute coronary syndrome, or “a warning for a heart attack.”
“She had a new blockage that had to be fixed,” he said.
The patient underwent surgery and is recovering.
About 1,000 patients will receive the Guardian nationwide as part of the three-year study, Ambrosia said. The study is examining the use of the device on people who have had a heart attack or a “re-vascularization” (stent, angioplasty or bypass surgery) within the past six months.
“It really gives us a new realm. Rather than waiting for symptoms or changes on the EKG to start the treatment, we can start it earlier. Theoretically you could stop a heart attack that would have gone on to totally close the artery. You can start the treatment and stop it from progressing,” he said. “From the cardiologist perspective it’s an exciting thing. It’s an area where we’ve not had the ability to detect the beginnings of a heart attack this early before. Where the technology goes is really a very open question.”
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