Paul Kopczynski suffers Heart Attack!

Yes, I did. I am fine right now and will be taking it easy over the next month but do feel fine. Hereís the lowdown if you care to know.  There are some pictures further down that you can click on to enlarge.

On Thursday, August 4, 2005, I cut out of work early to go golfing during the afternoon. I got hot quick and was drinking a lot of water to avoid dehydration. This was not unusual since I had suffered dehydration problems in the past. I didnít feel real well but thought this and was due to being out for $1 beer night at the local tavern the night before. I made it through the round actually feeling better at the end than I did when I started. I actually pared the last two holes, which are two of the toughest holes on the course. I went home to spend a quiet evening.

On Friday, I went to work without incident and felt fine. Came home and Tamera and I headed out to our favorite tavern. We were out a while but home to have dinner.

Saturday, August 6th, I went golfing in the morning, participating in weekly scramble at nearby, small course. I have participated in this on most weekends for the past couple years. I walked the course pulling my clubs on my dadís old cart. I walk because the course is short and flat and it gives me a chance to walk off the effects of the night out the evening before. So this was like any other Saturday morning; I was a bit hung over and walking it off while playing golf. It was warm and humid and I got a bit hot but not really fatigued during my play, which was poor but my normal standard. Nothing eventful happened while golfing other than feeling a bit hot and overheated which would be expected and I drank a lot of water to avoid dehydration.

All Brickyard race weekends are party weekends in Indy so I had plans after golf. I got home and cleaned up to attend a hog roast party that one of the local tavernís patrons was having. I had friends from work and from out-of-state planning to attend the hog roast with me as well. We all met and the local tavern for a few beers before heading to the party.

It was warm outside at the party, but not hot, mid 80ís, Iíd guess, as we sat in the shade, talked, listened to the band that was there playing, and drank a few more beers. I played a bean bag game and began sweating and feeling uncomfortably hot. The food was served and I had a helping and sat down to eat. I began feeling uncomfortable.

Iíd been constipated for a couple days since golfing Thursday which is consistent with my dehydration problem, so I thought my discomfort was due to being stopped up but I was really felling hot and sweating a bunch. I went inside for a few minutes to cool down in the A/C and did, and although I cooled off, the discomfort wouldnít go away. I went out and actually had another plate of food (I was determined to force out what had been put in) and another beer before deciding I was feeling too bad to stay much longer.

Tamera took me home where I took an aspirin and generic tylenol before crashing in my easy chair for the evening. The sensation wouldnít go away so I waited until it subsided at about 11pm before going to bed. I took another aspirin and tylenol before going to sleep and woke up Sunday feeling great.

Sunday morning Tamera and I decided to ride our motorcycles to breakfast because we hadnít been on them in a while and besides, the gas prices were way too high to use the car. We have been going out to breakfast at local, non-franchised, small restaurants on weekends for the past few years and generally eating the most, unhealthy items on the menu. Today, at our favorite Greek restaurant, I had the Housier (misspelled on the menu) omelet. What a beautiful chunk of meal; this was a huge omelet with bacon, ham, sausage, onions, green peppers and cheese, with fried potatoes and buttered toast. Wonderful! I could only eat about a third of what was on my plate and boxed the rest for later.

When I got home, I changed the oil in my Explorer because that was overdue. While doing so I noticed that I was again sweating a lot, but it was getting hot outside again. I felt fine otherwise. Nick has made a project of building shelves in our garage and needed some more supplies to complete paint them and the garage, so we again hopped our motorcycles to go to Home Depot for a couple items and returned. I helped Nick mix some paints and set up for painting and aside from getting hot and sweaty, felt fine. When I got hot, Iíd get inside for a bit and drink some water and go back to work.

Everything was fine until I sat down to watch the race and then the same discomfort I had experienced the day before hit me again. I was no longer constipated as of this morning and knew this was not right, so something else was wrong. I did not have any heart attack symptoms as published everywhere so I was unsure of what it was but did ask Tamera to get me an aspirin as I sat uncomfortably in my chair. Of course this triggered Tamera into concern as I waited on the aspirin to take affect. It didnít help. So, we decided to drive to the emergency room rather than call 911.

I was quickly put in a wheel chair and sent to a room for evaluation. They drew some blood and the test results proved that I was having heart problems and probably a heart attack. The level was so low that the staff was uncertain but when the cardiologist arrived he was certain of it.

I had no shortness of breath. I had no pain in my arms, shoulders, chest, or jaw. I did not feel the pressure that was said to be like a fist pressing very firmly against the chest or as if someone was sitting on the chest. I felt a pressure but it was more like something inside of me was trying to push its way out of my chest. I also felt as if my chest, high, from shoulder to shoulder, was inflamed. This was similar to what I felt earlier in life when I would exercise, to when I would go for a run in cold weather and burn my lungs. I am not sure this is the accurate term but Iíve had the sensation when I would try exercising too much after not having exercised in a while and my lungs would like they were on fire. Anyway, I had the pressure of like a brick inside of me trying to push its way out of my chest and the burning sensation like my lungs were abused.

I rated the pain level at a six to seven on a scale of ten. I should probably have rated my pain as higher than that but after having experiences with gout and acute colitis this didnít compare. Anyway, because my symptoms were different and I wasnít rating the pain so great, the emergency room staff was uncertain that I was having a heart attack. The blood test was proof that I did have a heart attack.

After recovering from the procedure and having time to speak with a cardiologist on the day of my discharge, he told me the same thing, that those symptoms themselves were not indicative of a heart attack. I told him of the sweating and the overheating I had experienced for the past few months but he said that it itself could not be concluded to be a heart problem. He said that these were in fact symptoms that I had with my heart problem but that if I asked him at that point he could not have concluded that I was having heart problems. He did say that generally, people who experience second heart attacks would experience the same sensations. So I guess I now know what to watch for.

I was admitted to the hospital and would have a catheterization procedure scheduled in the morning. I was given five nitroglycerin tablets over the evening but they helped only minimally. I was on blood thinners and was wired up to a bunch of monitors. I spent an uncomfortable night in and out of sleep all night. Tamera was given a cot so she could stay but she didnít get much sleep either.

Somewhere around 8am I was taken away for the procedure. I had to sign about six release forms for various reasons permitting the doctor to chose options they felt best after determining the specific problem(s), and that they were not responsible for anything including my death should that happen.

I had previously a mistaken understanding of the procedure. I thought they somehow scoped out the problem from the inside but thatís not what is done. Rather, the catheterization device is a thin flexible wire that is used to inject a radioactive dye into the blood stream and a bunch of x-ray pictures are taken externally to measure the flow of the dye through the arteries. I donít know if they visually evaluate the dyeís progress or they somehow time the progress of the dye but someway they come up with the blockage estimates. I had 95% blockage in one artery and other blockages of 20%, 30%, and a 60-70% in another artery.

The cardiologist decided to put a stent in the highly blocked area and leave the others alone. The reasoning not to do more was that it wasnít worth the risk. She had been successful without incident so far and in the her opinion, my heart had been through a enough stress already. A 60-70% blockage is not normally a problem yet for the heart and the treatment risk is equal to the heart attack risk so she treated only the one blockage.

After the procedure, I was sent to the cardiac intensive care unit where I was to spend the day and night recovering. The heart catheterization procedure involves piercing the large artery feeding the right leg at the groin area and inserting the wire gadget through it. After the procedure, there is a great concern about bleeding. Since this is such a large artery, a person can bleed to death very quickly if this wound is not properly treated so many precautions are taken.

To prevent bleeding and to close the wound, I was expected to lie motionless for about four hours. During the first half-hour, pressure was applied directly to the incision by using a large C-clamp shutting off the opening while holding me in place on the bed. Well, my wound would not heal; the blood would not coagulate and kept oozing out of the cut. Even after having this large clamp holding me to the bed at the site of my wound for over an hour, it kept oozing. Eventually the clamp was removed and the nurse on site manually provided pressure to the point for a couple hours. Still it oozed.

He tried everything to stop the bleeding but nothing worked as I was expected to lie motionless, on my back, throughout the day and night until the bleeding stopped. The nurse couldnít stay only with me so I wound up with a padded brick on my groin providing the pressure needed to stop the bleeding.

All this while a potent blood thinner was being administered through my IV so it wasnít surprising to me that I was bleeding and that coincidentally, as soon as that medication was used, my bleeding eased. The nurse put some kind of coagulant patch on my wound to help stop the bleeding but it was ineffective as long as the blood thinner was being administered.

So I had a terrible day and night waiting on my bleeding to quit and was concerned that I would never get out of the hospital because the bleeding wouldnít quit. Well, it let up enough in the morning to get me out of intensive care and into a regular room. I got there feeling relieved and wanted to clean up but again had to sponge bathe. While doing so I broke open the wound again and the nurse attending me called for help.

The cardiologist was not very helpful so she and her aid applied direct pressure to the incision for about an hour. This, while Tameraís parents came to visit, with my groin exposed and the gals with their hands between my legs. It was pretty funny so Tamera and her parents left for lunch and I had the nurses help me with a crossword puzzle while they attended to my groin. They got it stopped in about an hour but I again had to rest motionless for another two hours before being allowed to move around.

I now was concerned about breaking open the incision and not being permitted to go home the next day. Things went well the rest of the day and I was able (in fact, expected) to walk around the floor a couple times to ensure that I experienced no other chest pains. I had a nice restful sleep Tuesday night and looked forward to being released on Wednesday.

The cardiologist visited and confirmed that I would be released and answered a few more of my questions. I was able to take a shower without incident and Tamera helped packed for us to leave.

While waiting to be discharged, amazingly, I got a call from the man who had occupied the room before me. He had left some personal items in the room, among them some Brickyard 400 souvenirs that asked to be saved for him. We talked for a while only for me to learn that he had had a couple stents inserted with his first heart attack last November but that he just had a second heart attack due to one of the stents collapsing after just eight months. He had had two of the original style stents placed in his arteries and had now had the one that collapsed replaced with a newer style, drug coated version intended to prevent the collapsing. He got the same answer I did when he asked the cardiologist on why they only replaced the one stent rather than both; the other was working fine and there was no reason to take the risk. Now, this conversation wasnít very reassuring for me to hear this as I was about to leave but at least now I know, shit happens.

I am now at home and feeling fine, really pretty good. Tamera is trying to be my personal dietician and is preparing only heart healthy meals for me. Since I am unable to drive for two weeks, she is my chauffeur. I am trying to stay within the recovery guidelines that were given but Iíve probably done a few things already that have exceeded posted limitations. As examples: I am not to lift anything over 10 pounds but I had a big bouquet of flowers delivered to me from friends at work and I didnít realize how heavy they would be until after the florist handed them to me; I made the bed today but am not supposed to do that for another three weeks; and I invited friends over this weekend but the book says not for a week or two. So it is hard for me not to do the things I want to and feel capable of when only a book is telling me so and not my body. Itís good I have this computer to play with and also good that the PGA is on TV this weekend.

I am now trying to cope with the psychological aspects of my physiological problem. During the ordeal, I was not scared or frightened which is bothersome to me. Perhaps I felt indestructible or worthless, felt confident in God or the professional staff attending me, or maybe things came too fast for me to accept or comprehend the magnitude of the trouble, or maybe I subconsciously expected this because of my overheating during the year.

For whatever reason, I really never got scared. At the time of the catheterization, I did say a few prayers and the attending nurse gave me a Rosary to hold through the procedure after I reminded her I was Catholic, but even then, although concerned, I wasnít scared. I hope I havenít devaluated my life so much as to not care any more but I donít think that either; I just felt that it wasnít my time to go. I believe I am more concerned now over future tests and possibilities than I was going through this ordeal.

I believe I psychologically protected and calmed myself during my hospital stay by: staying positive and joking with the hospital staff; debating over the amount of beer I could have with the cardiologist and nurses; arguing with the dietician over how much salt I could have (after all I had just become expert by watching "Good Eats" on the Food Network the past Saturday, while having the first episode of my heart attack, where they explained that dietary concerns over salt were overstated); educating nurses on motorcycle touring and the worthlessness of motorcycle helmet laws; and asking the staff for assistance with crossword puzzle solutions.

I am also trying to understand cholesterol.  I have been on a cholesterol lowering drug since the beginning of the year and it has been doing its job.  Amazingly, at the time of my discharge, my total cholesterol count was at 136, the good cholesterol was at 49 and the bad at 66 with triglycerides at 105.  Now I am asking how I could have had a heart attack with all these fantastic numbers and is there really any way of preventing one through diet?  I will do what I can to keep these counts where they are but will it matter?

I very much want to compliment the hospital staff at St Vincent's Hospital.  They were great.  All were friendly and kind and caring and put up with my humor and resistance.  The cardiologist, well, they had quirky personalities but were professional and generally kind.

I donít seem to have any limitations regarding computer usage so I built this web site and will probably update it occasionally. Check back for the latest or go to one of the other links I have here to see some outdated family photos (really needs to be updated) and some recent motorcycling pictures.

Links to my other web sites:

PJKOPY Home Page

Motorcycle Touring Page

Blue Ridge Parkway Tour Page