Check your risk for heart attack
When Mark Jurchen of Pequot Lakes walked into Urgent Care, he expected to get an antibiotic to cure his lingering chest cough. He thought he had pneumonia until Dr. Paul Carey explained the problem was his heart.
“Dr. Carey said, ‘Mark, there’s nothing wrong with your lungs but I don’t like what I hear in your heart,’” said Jurchen, 63.
After listening to Jurchen’s heart and his symptoms, Carey knew his patient had a classic case of coronary artery disease and was at risk for a heart attack.
“I remember Mark saying, ‘Doctor, I appreciate your concern, but I know I have pneumonia,’” Carey said.
But Jurchen took Carey’s advice and his next stop was the Emergency Department at Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd. Jurchen was comforted to find his family doctor, Dr. Brett Nienaber, working a shift there. Tests confirmed Jurchen had suffered a small heart attack and was at high risk for another, so Dr. Michael Rich, a cardiologist at the Brainerd Lakes Heart and Vascular Center, was called in.
Rich determined Jurchen needed an angiogram to identify where his coronary arteries were narrowed or blocked. The results would determine whether Jurchen could have a minimally invasive stent procedure at the local heart center or whether he needed to be transferred to another hospital for heart bypass surgery.
The angiogram the next morning showed a major artery in Jurchen’s heart was 95 percent blocked in one area and 80 percent blocked in another. Dr. Mark Johnson, an interventional cardiologist at the Brainerd Lakes Heart & Vascular Center, placed two stents to open up the artery. Jurchen spent another night in the hospital before going home to Pequot Lakes.
“It was seamless care, from Urgent Care through the stents,” said Jurchen, who works as the agency manager at Lakeland Insurance Agency in Pequot Lakes. “Within 24 hours, they’d fixed my problem. I’m feeling better than I have in years.”
The experience prompted Jurchen to commit to better health. He now speed-walks three or four miles every day and sticks to a heart-healthy diet.
“Mark’s a good example of how it’s never too late to make changes,” Rich said.
An echocardiogram three months after the stent procedure showed Jurchen’s heart was back to normal function.
Looking back, Jurchen now realizes he had felt tightness in his chest and shortness of breath but ignored those symptoms because he’s been healthy and active. Both he and Rich stress the importance of paying attention to symptoms.
“If you have symptoms, such as shortness of breath or weakness, don’t just attribute them to growing older,” Rich said. “Talk with your doctor and make sure it’s not anything serious. When we can treat heart disease early enough, we can change the course.”
“I easily could have not gone in to Urgent Care that day and I wouldn’t be sitting here now,” Jurchen said. “I enjoy every day now. I’ve got four grandchildren and I’m here to watch them grow.”
If you’ve wondered about your risk for a heart attack or heart disease, you can find answers with an online tool from Essentia Health. The free tool can be found at EssentiaHealth.org/HeartVascular. The survey only takes a few minutes and walks you through simple questions about your age, weight, exercise habits and stress levels. It also asks about your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers.
Based on your answers, the tool calculates your heart’s biological age and your risks for heart and vascular disease. The risk assessment is based on the Framingham Heart Study, a major public health study that began in 1948. If your results show that your risk for heart disease is high, talk with your doctor. The tool isn’t meant to replace conversations with your healthcare provider.