Living with heart disease didn’t seem to limit 67-year-old Eugene Davis’ opportunities to enjoy retirement. The Dallas native, who had bypass surgery in 1995, had successfully treated the high blood pressure, shortness of breath and fatigue that sent him to surgery 20 years ago. But in 2008, things changed.
“I had difficulty taking out the trash or walking to a doctor’s appointment without experiencing shortness of breath. I would have to stop and sit down,” said Eugene. “I was taking an average of five nitroglycerin pills a week. I couldn’t cut the yard. I could make a couple of passes but then I’d have to stop. I would just run out of gas.”
He knew something was wrong, and his doctor referred him to Dr. Manos Brilakis, Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories at VA North Texas Healthcare System, in Dallas. Eugene was diagnosed with a chronic total occlusion (CTO), a complete or almost complete blockage of a coronary artery, caused by heavy build-up of plaque. While a sudden blockage often results in a heart attack, in some patients the blockage may build up slowly over time, until the artery is nearly or completely closed.
He initially was placed on medications to manage his symptoms. But over time, the medications no longer controlled the debilitating pain, fatigue and shortness of breath.
“I would get out of breath walking into my doctor’s office. I would have to sit down at least twice between the parking lot and the office,” he recalled. “My blood pressure was never normal, it was always high.”
So in April 2013, Dr. Brilakis performed a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), a non-surgical procedure that uses a catheter to insert a stent that opens up blood vessels in the heart that have been narrowed by plaque buildup.
In the past, patients with CTO had limited treatment options. Some were told they needed bypass surgery, while others may have had blockages that were too complex to treat. But in recent years, advances in PCI are making interventional treatments a viable option for patients with CTO, and helping some patients avoid bypass surgery.
“That procedure was a true blessing,” said Eugene. “I can do anything I want to now.”
Recovery time after the procedure was minimal for Eugene and within a few weeks he was walking a mile and cutting his grass without having to stop and rest.
“I knew I was doing well when I could take my trash out with no problems,” said Eugene. “As a matter of fact, last week my 10-year-old grandson and I put two skids of grass down with no problems at all. That’s a lot of grass.”
Since the procedure, his blood pressure has remained steady and he’s doing things in retirement he was unable to do during employment. It’s what he calls a breath of fresh air.
“It’s a new start and I’m taking full advantage of it.”