Valentine's Day Heart Attack Survived
Chris Forrestal Patient Story

Valentine's Day Heart Attack Survived

    Thursday, February 25, 2021


On Valentine's Day, Chris Forrestal took his wife of 34 years, Rhonda, to try a new burger place for lunch. That evening, a burning sensation began building in his chest. Considering indigestion as the culprit, Chris took an antacid, but he soon knew the mounting pain meant a bigger, more dangerous problem.

When hearts hurt

"This all started in the center of my chest, and normally with my indigestion it's a little higher. Within 10 minutes, the pain became crushing. I was sweating profusely and nauseous. I had never experienced that kind of pain before. It was intense and relentless, like an elephant sitting on my chest," Chris said.

While chest pain and tightness may first come to mind as signs of heart attacks, people can experience a variety of symptoms, such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, lightheadedness, sweating, or pain in the neck, jaw, back, arms or shoulders.

Activate the heart heroes

Worried by Chris' intensifying symptoms, Rhonda called 911, initiating a coordinated chain of events that activated professionals on the emergency medical transportation team, Genesis Hospital's Emergency Department team, and Genesis' heart and vascular team.

“Chris was practically writhing in pain, so I called the squad. We live in the country in Norwich, and they couldn’t have gotten here any faster,” Rhonda said. “In the ambulance, they did an EKG and confirmed he was having a heart attack and then let the hospital know. When we arrived at Genesis Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED), a cardiac team of about 15 people was already in the room. I was so impressed. Everybody was in place and knew what to do. The doctor said to me, ‘This is where you want to be if there’s a problem. We’ll take care of him.’”

Timing proves critical

Chris suffered a massive heart attack originating in the left anterior descending (LAD) artery, the artery that supplies 65 to 70% of the heart’s muscle. When the LAD becomes nearly or completely blocked, the heart attack is commonly called the widowmaker

“Each minute, each second can make a big difference in a patient’s life when it comes to surviving a widowmaker,” said Alaa Gabi, M.D., fellowship-trained interventional cardiologist, at the Genesis Heart & Vascular Institute. “The quicker the patient receives treatment, the better the chance of surviving and the better outcome for the strength of the heart muscle. That’s why the response of the Genesis Community Ambulance to the ED and then to the Genesis Cardiac Catheterization Lab happens fast.”

Coordinating quick and expert care is one of Genesis’ strengths. In fact, Genesis diligently records and tracks the time from when a patient enters the hospital doors until the time they receive treatment in the cardiac catheterization lab; and Genesis’ timing proves faster than the national average.

Stopping the widowmaker

Inside Genesis’ Cardiac Cath Lab, Dr. Gabi and his team inserted a small wire into Chris’ blocked artery, crushed the hindering obstruction, and then deployed a stent to permanently hold open that area of Chris’ LAD artery.

“Dr. Gabi was just wonderful,” Chris said. “He explained everything and was reassuring during the process. After the procedure, I spent two more days at the hospital, and I had an excellent experience there. The nurses took great care of me, and everyone was informative and helpful.”

Rhonda agrees. She is a physical therapist at Genesis Rehabilitation Services, and this is the first time Rhonda and her family personally experienced the lifesaving care at Genesis.

“I felt well educated, understood everything that was going on and felt like I was part of the team. That kind of compassionate care brings peace,” Rhonda said.

After Chris’ massive heart attack, his ejection fraction rate remained low – meaning his heart wasn’t pumping out a high enough percentage of blood with each contraction. “A normal ejection fraction is around 50 or 55%, but Chris’ ejection fraction was down to 30 to 35% at the time of his heart attack,” Dr. Gabi explained.

Chris attended Genesis’ cardiac rehabilitation for 10 weeks, where he met with a team of registered nurses, exercise specialists, counselors and dietitians who help patients recover faster and return to full, productive lives.

“It really helped!” Chris said. “They explained things physically and emotionally, and they helped me build my stamina and confidence.” Dr. Gabi recently gave Chris good news. “An echocardiogram showed his heart muscle ejection fraction is back to normal,” Dr. Gabi said.

A heart-filled thanks

This year, Chris and Rhonda plan to spend Valentine’s Day at home, playing with their grandchildren. They cherish time with family and intentionally focus on nourishing hearts – emotionally and physically. Chris continues building his stamina and confidence, and he’s committed to eating healthy, exercising regularly and managing his stress levels.

“This has helped me make major changes in my life,” Chris said. “I’m so thankful for the Genesis teams. They’ve worked hard, and I certainly credit them with saving my life.”

Heart attacks can happen any day – get to the hospital fast!

“Heart attacks are unpredictable. We treat patients on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day – any day. The important thing is that you get to the hospital as quickly as possible. Every second counts,” said Alaa Gabi, M.D., fellowship-trained interventional cardiologist, Genesis Heart & Vascular Institute.

Unfortunately, some people have delayed seeking hospital care because of fear of exposure to COVID-19. That decision can have detrimental effects.

“It’s terribly sad. I’ve had patients who have died or suffered irreversible complications because they came to the hospital too late, trying to avoid exposure to COVID-19,” Dr. Gabi said. “Please, if you have any heart attack symptoms, seek medical care immediately.”