Our researchers are studying certain acute stressors that can result in heart attack. It’s likely that Michael’s attack was triggered by a respiratory infection.
Michael (pictured here with his grandson) had always been fit, he ate well, and didn’t drink much. He used to smoke, but had given up. At age 65, he didn’t see himself particularly at risk of a heart attack.
But after feeling unwell for a week, he was sent to Royal North Shore Hospital, and within 48 hours underwent triple bypass surgery.
When he felt discomfort in his chest, similar to heartburn, Michael assumed it was related to a recent chest infection. He was on antibiotics, recovering from a root canal procedure at the dentist, as well as the respiratory infection. So when he started feeling unwell, he didn’t seek help for several days.
But the pain persisted, and he consulted his doctor. The tests showed nothing, but he was sent to North Shore Hospital.
‘Little did I know I’d be on the operating table within 48 hours because I had three blocked arteries.’
Diagnosis of heart attack
The cardiac specialists found that he had three blocked arteries. Michael had had an inferior myocardial infarction – a minor heart attack.
Chest infection as a trigger
Because Michael, formerly a heavy smoker, already had blocked arteries, it could be that the stress of the respiratory infection triggered his attack.
Researchers at Royal North Shore Hospital are investigating a simple preventive treatment for people with cardiac risk factors. The aim is to prevent heart attacks following a stressor such as infection or emotional trauma.
Triple bypass surgery
Stents were recommended to open up the arteries, but as Michael is allergic to aspirin and morphine this was not an option. Instead he underwent triple bypass surgery, and made a full recovery.
Michael had no family history of heart disease or heart attack, but he was a heavy smoker for 30 years – a strong risk factor for heart disease.
He was not obese, played golf once a week and ate sensibly.
He is now more careful about his diet and exercise. He takes regular medication and does the treadmill as well as playing golf more often. Interestingly, Michael notes that 'apparently I was more irritable in the weeks before the infection and the heart incident.'
‘I never thought of myself as at risk. But when I was facing surgery, I was never afraid of dying – I handle the inevitable quite well,’ he says. ‘The impact now is that I’m aware of it – and I have the scars to remember it.’