By Barbara Mackovic
It was December 2012 and Bob Valvano was at Louisville International Airport heading to Connecticut to call a basketball game, but he wasn’t feeling well. The well-known college basketball analyst and radio broadcaster said he’d been taking medication for acid reflux and thought maybe his stomach problems were worsening.
“I stopped and called for help quite simply because with the way I felt, I knew I just couldn’t do my job when I got there,” Valvano said.
Even though he thought he was dealing with a stomach problem, he called 9-1-1. A cardiologist passing by noticed his distress and stopped to help.
“The cardiologist knew just by looking at me that I was having a heart attack,” Valvano said. “I was surprised to find out it was a heart problem. I thought it was a stomach related problem. I felt like I had a little pizza oven at the top of my stomach.”
Valvano had been to his primary care doctor that spring because he was feeling badly. After an abnormal EKG, he was sent to the hospital where he underwent a stress test and other screenings. Ultimately, his doctors determined his heart was fine. He started taking Prilosec, a common medication used for acid reflux, and he started feeling better, so he assumed they were right. But the episodes persisted.
“I’m so lucky that I didn’t die several times,” Valvano said. “I had pain when I was calling a game in Memphis. By the time the team doctor got to me, it had subsided. In hindsight, my body was trying to tell me something. The take away is how important is it to listen to your body. My heart was trying to tell me for that last year that I had a problem.”
Valvano had written off many heart symptoms to other causes. His pain started in his stomach, then moved to his jaw, which he decided was caused by dental work. He had pain in his shoulder, which he thought was the result of bursitis.
“My doctor said if I had gotten on that plane, I probably would have died,” Valvano said.
Doctors at Jewish Hospital found that Valvano had two arteries that were 100 percent blocked. One had created its own bypass. They placed a stent in the other.
“I’m amazed how much better I feel,” Valvano said. “I didn’t realize how sick I was. The day after the procedure, the pain went away.”
A week later, Valvano was calling the University of Kentucky versus University of Louisville basketball game.
“I really have learned it’s not one-size-fits-all when determining if you’re having a heart attack,” Valvano said. “Listen to your body and go and get checked out.”
“It’s vital to recognize that there is no symptom of a heart attack; any discomfort in the chest or back may be indicative of heart-related problems,” says Chandhiran Rangaswamy, M.D., Louisville Heart Specialists, Jewish Physician Group. “It’s equally vital to understand that, if detected early, a heart attack can be aborted. That’s why it’s important to seek prompt medical attention when symptoms do arise.”
Barbara Mackovic is a Senior Manager, Media Relations for KentuckyOne Health