This piece first appeared in the Orlando Sentinel.
Tragically, COVID-19 has already claimed the lives of over 2,000 Floridians. The virus is contagious and deadly, especially to the elderly and those with underlying conditions.
But for me, the pandemic and the rules created to stop its spread created an odd confluence of events that likely saved my life.
For years, my weekly routine has included fitness boot camp, soccer and yoga. I maintain a healthy diet and rarely eat red meat. I don’t smoke, drink or have high blood pressure. However, I’m genetically predisposed to high cholesterol, which I’ve managed with a daily statin for 15 years. Nonetheless, my family history of heart disease puts me in a high-risk category.
So a year ago, I went to a cardiologist and had an echocardiogram and nuclear stress test, both of which I passed. My cardiologist scheduled a series of follow-up appointments. However, in light of recent curve-flattening measures, my follow-up was rescheduled, moving it from an in-person date in early May to telemedicine the very next day in mid-April.
Tuesday night, I did a “virtual” boot camp workout, ate dinner and relaxed. Later that evening, I felt a slight twinge in my chest, right jaw and right shoulder. It felt awkward and sore but not painful, so I took four low-dose aspirin as a precaution, and the feeling subsided.
Wednesday morning I woke up feeling fine, called in for my telemedicine meeting and told my cardiologist what had happened the previous night. He told me to go to the ER.
My wife drove me to the emergency room at Orlando Health, just two miles from our home.
The ER with our region’s only Level 1 trauma center was virtually empty. Shelter-in-place orders, curfews and a general fear of COVID-19 meant the usual lines were nonexistent.
The doctor decided that since my EKG was “not perfect, but not horrible,” I would meet with my cardiologist. I thought that would be the end of my visit. However, a few minutes later, my blood work came back and showed high levels of Troponin — an enzyme our bodies produce that indicates a heart attack.
My once-quiet hospital room suddenly buzzed with doctors and nurses. They whisked me to the heart catheter lab. After the doctor finished inserting a stent, he told me that I had a major heart attack and was lucky to be alive. He later told my wife that I had a 100 percent blockage in the Left Anterior Descending Artery, also known as the “widow-maker.”
Thankfully, my blockage was successfully treated with a stent and did not require surgery. This allowed for a speedy recovery, with a quick return to my exercise regimen and normal work schedule.
COVID-19 has inflicted tragic public health, economic and social crises here and abroad. However, the expanded use of tele-medicine necessitated by our response to this pandemic likely saved my life.
The lesson, particularly for men, is simple: Do not ignore unusual pain, even if it appears minor. Do not play the “tough guy” and attempt to power through it. Meet with and listen to your doctors, and don’t be afraid to go to the hospital, even in the middle of a pandemic.
These difficult times highlight the incredible work our nurses, doctors and hospital staff do on a daily basis — even in the face of a deadly contagion. They were focused, prepared, and highly skilled; able to act quickly in the face of this sudden threat. I owe them my life. We all owe them our gratitude and respect.
Tre’ Evers is an Orlando native, Florida State University alum and president of Consensus Communications.
The feature image is from Business Wire.