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From the Heart: Testimonials

An Invitation to Thrive!

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Saint Mary’s is among the nation’s award-winning hospitals for cardiac care. While we’re proud to be acknowledged by groups such as the American Heart Association, what’s most important is the approval of our patients like these, who put their trust in us.

Listening to the Beat

ListeningLucille Messer, 86, of Wolcott, remembers the first time she fainted. She was in church and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. When she woke up, she was looking at her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren gathered around the foot of her hospital bed.

Despite a full evaluation, a cause was not identified. Her fainting spells continued.

“It wasn’t something that was debilitating,” said Lucille, who was otherwise in good health. “I took it with a grain of salt.” The oldest of five children, Lucille hails from a large French Canadian family and was raised in Waterbury’s Fairlawn neighborhood. Her father, who was one of 19 children, worked for Scovill Manufacturing Company, one of the local brass mills. Lucille herself worked for American Brass for 10 years and for more than 30 years at Eastwood Garage, a three-generation family business started by her father-in-law, William, and continued by her husband, Charlie, and now their son, Jim. She and Charlie, also had two daughters—Mary and Julie—seven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Following her retirement at age 67, Lucille traveled extensively and has remained active in her church, St. Leo the Great, where she volunteers at bingo and serves as president of the Ladies’ Guild. She has lived with her son, Jim, and his wife, Patti, since Charlie passed away in 1995.

Asked what would happen when she felt faint, Lucille said, “I would get these sensations. It wouldn’t last long. I could sense lightheadedness coming and just stopped what I was doing and tried to hold onto something so I didn’t fall."

"It happened once when I was driving,” Lucille said.

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Cardiac Care That Begins at Your Door

John Mary O ConnorApril 1 started out as an ordinary day for John O’Connor, 65 of Cheshire. He was at work, replacing a roof, when he suddenly realized he didn’t feel right. He asked his son, Brendan, who was working with him that day, to take him home.

O’Connor’s lightheadedness was soon compounded by a heavy feeling in his chest. “We were home maybe ten minutes when I said, ‘I think you’d better call 911,’” O’Connor recalled. By the time the ambulance arrived, O’Connor was sweating profusely and in noticeable pain, but he never suspected he was having a heart attack.

“They got me in the ambulance and started for Waterbury,” O’Connor recalled. “It’s amazing how fast everything went.” Emergency medical services (EMS) personnel administered medications en route to Saint Mary’s Hospital and forwarded the results of an electrocardiogram (EKG) to the Emergency Department. When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, O’Connor was triaged and transported within minutes to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab, where a team led by Stephen Widman, MD, interventional cardiologist at Saint Mary’s, was already waiting.

A 90-Minute Window

O’Connor suffered a type of heart attack called an ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), which means that one of the major arteries supplying blood to his heart was completely blocked.

“The heart muscle sends out pain signals when it doesn’t get enough blood,” Dr. Widman explained. “It also produces symptoms that can include tightness or heaviness in the chest; wheezing; pain in the arm, neck, jaw or mid-back; shortness of breath; and sweating.

Treatment for STEMI may include angioplasty, which involves inserting a tiny balloon into the artery to immediately restore blood flow to the heart. A wire-mesh stent also can be used to keep the artery open. In O’Connor’s case, as with any heart attack, it was important to act quickly.

“The amount of damage to the heart is completely dependent on the amount of time the heart muscle doesn’t receive blood and oxygen,” Dr. Widman explained. “Time is myocardium—heart muscle: The shorter the time, the less damage. Beyond 90 minutes, patients don’t benefit a lot from what we can do.”

Minutes Mean A Lot

When Dr. Widman inserted the balloon to open John’s blocked artery, O’Connor said he felt an immediate release.

“It was incredible,” O’Connor said. “when you look at the time it took to get me here and get me upstairs, it just seemed awfully, awfully rapid. It was almost a blur. That’s when you learn that minutes mean a lot.”

Ten weeks after his heart attack, O’Connor was enrolled in Saint Mary’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program and said he never felt better. He’d lost 50 pounds and he and his wife, Mary, and son, Brendan, have all been eating healthier.

“I’m very thankful to Dr. Widman and to Saint Mary’s,” O’Connor said. “I can’t imagine anyplace where treatment would have been quicker or more efficiently done. The doctor said, ‘You had what they call a widow maker. You shouldn’t be here.’ It’s one of those things that very few people live through. I feel very fortunate."

Listen to Your Heart

Gail Cardiac TestimonialIn November 2011, Gail Ciarlegio was tired—and breathless. “I was sleeping a lot. With the holidays and everything, I thought I was just a little run down,” the Watertown resident said. Like many women, Gail brushed off her concerns. Three months later, during a routine appointment, her primary care physician, Dr. Stephen Rubenstein, diagnosed a problem with her heart.

Dr. Rubenstein referred her to Dr. Peter Chien, a cardiologist with Franklin Medical Group Cardiology in Waterbury. Within moments of beginning a stress test, Gail became lightheaded and had to stop. Dr. Chien immediately ordered another test, called a cardiac catheterization, which was performed at Saint Mary’s and revealed that one of Gail’s arteries was 90 percent blocked. Plaque buildup in the arteries of the heart can narrow the arteries, reducing blood flow. This reduction in blood flow can slow or stop the heart—meaning Gail was at risk of cardiac arrest. To reopen her artery, the Saint Mary’s cardiac team inserted a tiny mesh stent, and Gail stayed overnight at the hospital.

“When I woke up, I immediately felt better,” Gail said. “I had never been a patient at Saint Mary’s before, but the care I received that night and the day after was impeccable. I’d just move and the nurse would come in to check on me.

On the Road to Recovery

Following her procedure, Gail joined the Saint Mary’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, which is designed to help patients recover from recent cardiac events or surgeries.

Gail successfully completed the exercise program in July, but the following week, she felt mild discomfort in her chest, neck and jaw. Not wanting to ignore her symptoms a second time, Gail called Dr. Chien, who directed her to the Saint Mary’s Emergency Department.

Again, a cardiac catheterization was ordered, and the test revealed a new problem. A second artery, which had been 10 percent blocked when she was examined in July, was now 80 percent blocked. The news was surprising. Gail had done everything right. She had taken her prescriptions, maintained a heart-healthy diet, and exercised regularly. However, she also has a family history of heart disease. Her mother and grandfather both suffered from atherosclerosis, which is sometimes referred to as “hardening of the arteries.

Another stent was placed inside heart to clear the blockage, and Gail is now doing well. She continues to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle, but she remains watchful for symptoms and has encouraged friends and loved ones to listen to their hearts as well.

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