The Life of Heart Transplant Survivor

The Life of Heart Transplant Survivor

PATIENT STORY

The Life of Heart Transplant Survivor

How a new heart changed one man’s life

The phone rang at my desk. It was Dr. Sullenberger. “Mike, you should come upstairs. There is a patient I want you to meet, David Gray. He has a story you need to hear.” I grabbed my recorder and walked upstairs to the 4th floor of our Corporate Woods location, unsure what to expect. This was the first time I had been called to meet a patient. Dr. Sullenberger introduced me to David Gray, a normal looking man wearing a hoodie sweatshirt and blue jeans. He smiled, we sat down, and David started opening up. He shared his remarkable survival story with the passion that makes you sit up and take notice.

David Gray (left) with Dr. Lance Sullenberger (right)

David Gray is a heart transplant survivor. His life changed forever in the summer of 2010, September 23rd to be exact. He speaks with such detail, you feel like you were in the hospital room when he received the diagnosis from Drs. Jeffrey Uzzilia and Lance Sullenberger that, what he thought were allergies, was in fact, viral cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that causes it to become enlarged, thick or rigid. When David says cardiomyopathy, it just rolls right off his tongue. “Then I met Dr. Ian Santoro, my injection fraction was at 34%, it was recommended that I get a defibrillator, I got that. Glad I did because it saved my life. I fell on the floor and it shocked me four times, it brought me back to life!”

It was at that point, that I realized that David is going on his ninth year of telling this story. His journey continued after getting an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD). He blinked a few times, and the smile that was on his face cleared as a more serious tone came over his demeanor. He mentally focused as he shared this part of his story. Five years after receiving his implant, David’s ICD saved his life.

“I had just gotten done mowing the lawn,” David began. He went to sit in his chair in the garage to watch TV to cool off. “I said to my wife, ‘Hey, do you want anything from Stewart’s? I’m going to play the Lotto.” He looked right at me and stated the exact time and date; it was 5:30 pm on May the 30th. “She was like, ‘Naw, I don’t want anything.’ I told her, ‘Don’t leave, something is wrong.’ Next thing I remember, she’s in my ear saying, ‘I’m calling 911! Are you okay?” David recalls getting up and sitting in the chair but doesn’t remember falling to his garage floor, his forehead narrowly missing the snowblower parked nearby.

His defibrillator saved his life.

He sat in the chair in his garage for 20 minutes before going to the store. That’s when he got a call. “They told me that I was in full cardiac arrest and needed to come in right now. That started my summer off,” said David. “Dr. Sullenberger brought me in July of 2015 and said we needed to have a family meeting. I brought my wife and two kids in, I remember saying, ‘Really? I need a heart transplant evaluation! Are you serious?’ I was perfectly healthy my whole life. I thought I was just getting old.” David’s heart condition was degrading. A heart transplant was needed to save his life. We talked about what happens after you get this kind of diagnosis. How mind-boggling the news, terminology, and explanation can all be. The worst part is when you get home with a head full of questions left unanswered, so you get on the computer. “I googled heart transplant surgery — biggest mistake in my life, I didn’t need to know that. And I googled organ donation,” he said.

David rattled off facts so matter of factly, that after speaking with him, I realized was part of his impeccable memory recall. When it comes to organ donation in the United States, “New York is number 50 in the country. We’re at about 25% of per capita registered, we’re on the bottom of the pile. A New Yorker dies every 18 hours waiting for a transplant,” David stated. At the end of January 2016, an Intra Aortic Balloon Pump was inserted through Dave’s shoulder, another temporary solution until his open-heart surgery to implant a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

“I knew nothing, absolutely zero about the heart or cardiology. Now I know more than I ever wanted to know in life!”

David Gray

Heart Transplant Survivor, Patient of Capital Cardiology Associates

“I smiled, I stayed strong during the entire process,” he recalls. The implant of an artificial heart made it possible for David walk his daughter down the aisle for her wedding, his major goal for that summer. He was able to return home, live a “normal life”, get back to the things that kept him busy, and most importantly, be with his family. Now David waited for a heart donor. Four months later, he got a phone call in late August that changed his life: a heart had been found for him. The next day he underwent surgery and on September 14th, he was discharged from the Westchester Medical Hospital. His body had accepted the new heart.

Today, David Gray lives like most retirees in the Capital Region. He keeps busy with his projects. David makes beer, cans jam and tends to his five beehives. “This year I have 42 pounds of honey!” he exclaimed. He fishes in the summer and hunts in the fall. But there is one thing that makes David quite unique to men his age: he’s survived heart failure, open-heart surgery, and in his mid-50’s, David is a patient advocate. “I have always helped people, it’s just different now,” David said.

He started small, working with support groups online and in person. He volunteers his time with several organ donor groups, New York State Donate Life, the Center for Donation and Transplant at Albany Med, the American Heart Association, “but my number one priority is with Westchester Medical Hospital”, he said, where he visits on a weekly basis. “My new life is that I visit patients. I talk with patients who come through from Capital Cardiology, I spend twelve hours a day down there.” This year he started visiting area high school students, sharing his story with young people.

David Gray walking with his daughter at her wedding

In a 2012 study, researchers found that the average life expectancy in heart transplant recipients was a little over 9 years, although researchers found a “relatively high quality of life even 10 years after surgery.” For David Gray, it’s obvious to anyone who speaks or meets with him for any amount of time that he is making the most of his new heart. He writes to politicians to celebrities and speaks to anyone who will listen about the need for organ donors. Personally, he has thanked everyone involved with his heart transplant, from the first nurse who saw him at the beginning of his diagnosis to the mother of his heart donor. An estimated 2,000 donor hearts become available in the United States each year. There is a tremendous need for donors across the country. Approximately 3,000 people are on a heart transplant waiting list at any given time, according to the University of Michigan. “We need more heroes, that’s all I can say,” David said. Anyone 16 years old or older can enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry. Learn more by clicking here.

Written by: Michael Arce, Marketing Coordinator, Capital Cardiology Associates Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.
Inside Open Heart Surgery

Inside Open Heart Surgery

PATIENT EDUCATION

Inside Open
Heart Surgery

The steps leading to one of the most common heart procedures: Coronary Artery Bypass Graft

The Texas Heart Institute reports that, “Thousands of heart surgeries are performed every day in the United States. In fact, in a recent year, surgeons performed 500,000 coronary bypass procedures.” Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG, pronounced “cabbage”) Surgery is the most common procedure performed to bypasses a severely blocked artery in the heart with a healthy blood vessel. This surgery restores vital blood flow to the heart muscle.

Since the late 19th century, surgeons have been performing cardiac surgery. On May 6, 1953, the first successful open-heart operation was performed on an 18-year-old woman in Philadelphia with a heart defect. What was once a new, unknown, scary procedure is now one of the best known, most studied and most effective surgeries of the modern age. Today, more than 95 percent of people who undergo coronary bypass surgery do not experience serious complications, and the risk of death immediately after the procedure is only 1–2 percent. The list of famous bypass recipients includes celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, David Letterman, and Larry King to former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Even with this reassurance, there are still concerns and questions surrounding bypass surgery. Dr. Lance Sullenberger is board certified in Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular Disease, and Advanced Heart Failure/Transplant Cardiology. He regularly consults his patients on CABG surgeries. “I would say there are two major ways a patient would present the need for an open heart surgery procedure or CABG,” he said. “The first would begin with a visit to your cardiologist.”

Doctors can determine when someone needs open-heart surgery by performing specific tests. This would begin with a patient who presents typical warning signs, chest pain, shortness of breath or palpitations. People with coronary heart disease sometimes experience buildups of plaque — a combination of fat, calcium, cholesterol and other cellular junk — on the insides of their arteries. This can restrict blood flow and cause clots. The most common symptom of a clogged artery is chest pain. In this case, the physician would order a stress test.

Doctors can determine when someone needs open-heart surgery by performing specific tests. This would begin with a patient who presents typical warning signs, chest pain, shortness of breath or palpitations. People with coronary heart disease sometimes experience buildups of plaque — a combination of fat, calcium, cholesterol and other cellular junk — on the insides of their arteries. This can restrict blood flow and cause clots. The most common symptom of a clogged artery is chest pain. In this case, the physician would order a stress test.

Testing

The heart performs differently at rest than it does during exercise. An exercise stress test – also known as a treadmill test – is designed to help your doctor learn how your heart performs during exercise or other activities that would make the heart work harder. For patients that are unable to use a treadmill or to get a deeper look, your doctor could order a nuclear stress test to help in the diagnosis of coronary artery disease or other heart conditions.

If the result of the stress test is abnormal, that patient would then be placed on medication and referred for catheterization, performed by an interventional cardiologist. “They do a diagnostic cardiac catheterization to look at the arteries that supply the heart with blood to see if that stress test was accurate,” noted Dr. Sullenberger. Again, with this test, physicians are looking for buildups that cause blockage of blood flow. Typically, arteries that are not blocked over 60 to 70% would be treated with medical therapy (medications, alterations in diets, changes in sleep habits, increased physical activity, stress reduction and more).

There could be one or maybe two arteries that have a blockage in them. “In that case, the decision would be made whether or not to use medicines or perhaps put stents in,” said Dr. Sullenberger. The stenting procedure could occur at that moment at the time of the catheterization. “When you start dealing with more than two arteries that are blocked or if there are special situations, such as the main artery on the left is blocked then you have to take a step back and ask, ‘Is this somebody who would be better served by stents or by bypass surgery?’ This is when the cardiologist and the cardiac surgeon would meet to discuss the options involved,” he shared.

The other major situation in which the decision has to be made between stenting and bypass is when a patient presents with a heart attack. “They are coming in with chest pain, losing heart muscle, most of those patients end up immediately in the Cath lab where an interventional cardiologist will look to see which artery is blocked and causing the heart attack, at that moment,” says Dr. Sullenberger. Most of those patients will receive a stent at that moment. A stent is a tiny wire mesh tube that is inserted inside a clogged artery through a tube procedure that does not require open-heart surgery. It props open an artery and is left there permanently.

The other major situation in which the decision has to be made between stenting and bypass is when a patient presents with a heart attack. “They are coming in with chest pain, losing heart muscle, most of those patients end up immediately in the Cath lab where an interventional cardiologist will look to see which artery is blocked and causing the heart attack, at that moment,” says Dr. Sullenberger. Most of those patients will receive a stent at that moment. A stent is a tiny wire mesh tube that is inserted inside a clogged artery through a tube procedure that does not require open-heart surgery. It props open an artery and is left there permanently.

For patients who present blocked arteries that cannot be corrected with stenting, Sullenberger states that the patient is stabilized in the coronary care unit while the cardiologist and surgeon meet to discuss the next best step. “Most good cardiologists have an idea beforehand if this person is going to end up needing a bypass or if they have valve disease,” he says. The timeline on when to operate depends on the patient’s condition. For an out-patient, surgery is performed within weeks. For heart attack patients, those decisions are made in a day, 48-hours at the most.

Surgical Procedure

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality statistical brief, published in March 2014, about 213,700 Americans have a CABG procedure every year. When someone has bypass surgery, they are in the operating room for several hours, on average about six hours. Most of that time is spent prepping the patient and getting them ready. The actual bypass surgery itself is about a two-hour procedure which can go longer or shorter based on what needs to be done.

In a typical procedure, the surgeon harvests a healthy blood vessel from a donor site. This is called a graft. The graft is commonly taken from the patient’s leg or arm. The surgeon opens the patient’s chest to expose the heart. The patient’s blood flow is diverted to a heart-lung machine. This machine temporarily takes over the lung’s function of oxygenating the blood and the heart’s function of pumping blood to the body. Medication is administered to stop the patient’s heart and preserve it during the surgery. After the bypass is complete, the surgeon removes the clamp from the aorta and allows the heart to resume beating on its own. The surgeon may insert a temporary pacing wire. This wire can be connected to a pacemaker if needed.

The patient then goes to a surgical ICU for recovery, made especially for cardiothoracic patients that receive specialized nursing care. That’s when cardiologists would see the patient. “In a best-case scenario,” Sullenberger begins, “you stay in the ICU about 48-hours after surgery, then you go to a step-down floor for another five days or so. Expect about a week in the hospital. Then you are discharged to go home and will follow up with your cardiologist within a week, and the cardiothoracic surgeon within a week or two, then you don’t see your surgeon anymore.” Unless there is a problem, you won’t see your surgeon again, but you will continue to see your cardiologist on a regular appointment basis.

Prevention

The need for CABG surgeries is expected to expand by just over 5% in the seven years due to stress, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and unhealthy habits. “For everyone [reading this] now, you never want to have to see a cardiologist or a cardiothoracic surgeon. The way you avoid that is doing everything you can to keep a healthy lifestyle,” advises Dr. Sullenberger. The American Heart Association strongly recommends eating a balanced diet, maintain reasonable body weight, stay at least moderately physically active (within your limits), and to check your cholesterol level regularly, especially if your family has a history of heart disease. Additionally, quitting smoking significantly reduces your risk of developing heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Prevention

The need for CABG surgeries is expected to expand by just over 5% in the seven years due to stress, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and unhealthy habits. “For everyone [reading this] now, you never want to have to see a cardiologist or a cardiothoracic surgeon. The way you avoid that is doing everything you can to keep a healthy lifestyle,” advises Dr. Sullenberger. The American Heart Association strongly recommends eating a balanced diet, maintain reasonable body weight, stay at least moderately physically active (within your limits), and to check your cholesterol level regularly, especially if your family has a history of heart disease. Additionally, quitting smoking significantly reduces your risk of developing heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Written by: Michael Arce, Media Specialist
Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

Alcohol and Heart Disease

Alcohol and Heart Disease

Heart Health

Alcohol and Heart Disease

Are there safe levels of alcohol consumptions for heart patients?

In August, a study published in The Lancet, suggested there is no safe level of alcohol as beneficial effects against ischemic heart disease. Researchers stated, “Alcohol use is a leading risk factor for death and disability, but its overall association with health remains complex given the possible protective effects of moderate alcohol consumption on some conditions.” One of the most common questions heart patients are asked by their doctor is, “How much alcohol do you consume?Dr. Robert Benton, Chief of Cardiology at Samaritan Hospital and Director of the Capital Cardiology Associates, Division of Clinical Research stated, “The alcohol question is always in the initial history of a patient. I often counsel a patient on what’s appropriate for their disease or condition. We have to look at everything, blood pressure, pulse, not having arrhythmia… it’s a big story to put together.”

After a heart attack, cardiac event, or diagnosis of heart disease, heart patients can sometimes be overwhelmed with a list of new rules they must live by. There are new medications to take, lifestyle changes like dieting or exercise, along with doctors appointments and other tests/checkups to schedule. As part of returning to a new normal life, patients will often ask their doctor when and if it’s safe to drink alcohol. Every year, there can be conflicting research on the benefits and risks of alcohol and heart disease. “This paper was in The Lancet and offered a retrospective look at countries around the world to see if there were any safe levels of alcohol,” said Dr. Benton.

Wine being poured into a glass

Dr. Benton summarized The Lancet article as a comprehensive, detailed analysis of “safe levels” in retrospective trials. “This study looked worldwide at the huge health burden related to alcohol use even at very low levels which would be less than one drink a day,” he said. The definition for “one drink” is one five ounce glass of wine, 12 ounces of beer (which in the US has 5% alcohol), and or one and a half ounces of 80 proof alcohol or just one shot. “The upside is that if you looked at the study in totality, you would find cancer, self-harm, and tuberculosis, as the three areas of increased events of the middle age range. Within that, there are going to be people, I would adhere to this opinion myself, who are moderate alcohol drinkers using the definitions I just gave you, who have some health benefits to drinking moderate amounts of alcohol.”

“Let me be clear on this point,” began Dr. Benton. “I would never tell or suggest to anyone to start drinking alcohol for any perceived health benefits.” But the discussion comes up frequently. “I usually have it with people who are new to me, new for primary prevention, or a patient in the hospital after having a cardiac event like a heart attack or stroke or surgery,” he said. “I often counsel a patient on what’s appropriate for their disease or condition.”

Alcohol in moderation

“I think for people who safely consume moderate levels (as outlined) there are some benefits to mildly lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and preventing ischemic stroke (a dry stroke),” shared Dr. Benton. The Lancet study (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) was not the first to explore alcohol’s complex association with health. The authors of this study estimate that, for one year, in people aged 15-95 years, drinking one alcoholic drink a day increases the risk of developing one of the 23 alcohol-related health problems by 0.5%, compared with not drinking at all. So far, the strongest evidence with heart health has shown that alcohol can increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. The Mediterranean Diet (endorsed by the Mayo Clinic)  says one standard 5 oz. glass of red wine at dinner is okay. 

Here are some findings from other studies:
• Agavins, the natural sugar in tequila, is shown to help lower cholesterol and can help you lose weight.
• The active compounds in red wine (polyphenols, resveratrol, and quercetin) have been proven to improve overall heart health.
• Whiskey also contains ellagic acid, which known for fighting off cancer by absorbing rogue cells.
• The polyphenols in rosé have been shown to prevent atherosclerosis, a major contributor to heart disease.

Couple on wine tasting tour

The health risks of drinking alcohol vary widely from person to person

“But as you know we have a lot of problems with the downside and damage caused by overconsumption,” cautioned Dr. Benton. “Too much alcohol can also raise your blood pressure, leading to hemorrhagic stroke, referred to as a bleeding stroke in your brain. Alcohol also has toxicity on the electoral system in your heart which can lead to atrial fibrillation. I certainly have a stable full of people with cardiomyopathy and A-fib related to alcohol and they are still drinking. That is not good. That is the opposite conversation!” Dr. Benton points out that even healthy people can have problems processing alcohol which is why the American Heart Association recommends no more than one drink per day for women and two for men. “There is evidence that heavy alcohol use can cause cardiomyopathy (weakened heart). Even healthy people can develop A-fib or as we call it “holiday heart”, we see that in young people who binge drink at parties or are over served,” he said.

But in terms of moderate alcohol use, for a person who has been drinking, had an event or is being treated for primary prevention, “My own opinion, and I think you’d find the opinion would be pretty solid amongst most cardiologists, that person is safe,” shared Dr. Benton. “That doesn’t mean I’m talking to everybody but I’m talking to probably, most people.” Most importantly, Dr. Benton urges people to talk with their doctor or health care provider. “This whole alcohol issue has many different sides to it.” At best he says, “This is a personal decision, advice is individualized for each patient.”

Written by: Michael Arce, Media Specialist
Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

The Only to Offer WATCHMAN in the Capital Region

The Only to Offer WATCHMAN in the Capital Region

HEART HEALTH

The Only to Offer WATCHMAN in the Capital Region

New heart procedure could be a ‘game-changer’ for AFib patients in the Capital Region

Patients with atrial fibrillation (AFib) are at five times greater risk of developing stroke. Starting in 2015, Dr. Augustin DeLago, President of Capital Cardiology Associates, began practicing an alternative to treatment for patients with AFib known as The WATCHMAN. “The WATCHMAN is a device that doesn’t treat AFib, but it essentially blocks off an area of the heart where 90-95% of all blood clots form in patients with atrial fibrillation,” shared Dr. DeLago.

Today, Capital Cardiology Associates is proud to announce our practice is one of a handful of pioneers leading the way offering procedures and treatment to A-Fib patients. “We have implanted over 100 WATCHMAN devices, and Capital Cardiology Associates is the only center in the Capital Region offering this procedure,” stated Dr. DeLago.

An estimated five million Americans are affected by AFib an irregular heartbeat that feels like a quivering heart. People with untreated atrial fibrillation may be at higher risk for stroke than people with normal heart rhythms. Because blood does not flow through the atria regularly, blood clots may form in the heart. If a blood clot escapes from the heart, it can travel through the bloodstream to the brain and cause a stroke.

The WATCHMAN, which has been implanted in more than 50,000 patients worldwide, is a permanent implant device that closes off an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage (LAA) to keep harmful blood clots that can form in the LAA from entering the bloodstream and potentially causing a stroke. “I consider it the appendix of the heart, it’s a vestigial organ, you don’t need it,” said Dr. DeLago. “The LAA is important in embryonic development, but as an adult, you don’t need it. It’s only a place that harbors blood clots.” By closing off the LAA, the risk of stroke may be reduced and, over time, patients may be able to stop taking warfarin.

Patients with AFib may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
• Heart palpitations (a sudden pounding, fluttering, or racing feeling in the chest)
• Lack of energy, feeling tired
• Dizziness, or a sense of faintness or light-headedness
• Chest discomfort (pain, pressure, or tightness in the chest)
• Shortness of breath

Is The WATCHMAN right for you?

“There are a group of patients that have had previous bleeding on traditional blood thinners or the new medications that you see advertised like crazy on TV,” began Dr. DeLago. “They have had a previous event. I tell them that if you have had a major bleed while on one of these medications, your mortality rate can be as much as 13%. We tell them that they have to come off these medications because there is no alternative. With The WATCHMAN, we can give hope to the hopeless. We can put this device in and reduce their instance of stroke as if they were on COUMADIN (traditional blood thinner), giving them reduce stroke incidents without increasing their bleeding problems.”

If you have a history of bleeding or a lifestyle, occupation or condition that puts you at risk for bleeding, WATCHMAN may be right for you. But like any medical procedure, WATCHMAN comes with risks, so it isn’t right for everyone. Your cardiologist will weigh your risk of a stroke against your risk of a serious bleeding problem to determine the right treatment for you. For more information, patient education videos, or to schedule an appointment with our WATCHMEN team, click below.

Written by: Michael Arce, Media Specialist Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

How the Flu Affects People with Heart Disease

How the Flu Affects People with Heart Disease

HEART HEALTH

How the Flu Affects People with Heart Disease

Get a flu shot early and often

December 2nd through the 8th is National Influenza Vaccination Week. Established by the CDC in 2005, this week stresses the importance of getting your flu shot for peak season from December through February. The CDC reports that “among adults hospitalized with flu during the 2017-2018 influenza season, heart disease was among the most commonly-occurring chronic conditions; about half of adults hospitalized with flu during the 2017-2018 flu season had heart disease.” Dr. Brion Winston has a personal interest and medical background in public health. He shared his views on the importance of getting the flu shot this season.

Best time to get your vaccince

“The answer on when to get a flu shot is, early and often,” began Dr. Winston. “Earlier in the season to avoid the first outbreak and continue vaccination throughout your life.” Flu vaccines are developed based on the findings of the virus from the previous season. Recommendations are made for both the northern and southern hemisphere. The vaccinations are based on two main surface proteins that change and shift from year to year, and season to season. These proteins change and move gradually, allowing the research to develop the vaccines with a reasonably good prediction of effectiveness. Although not always perfect. The effectiveness of the vaccine can range from as low as 10%, which is uncommon and to greater than 50% effective in most years.

There is also a benefit in getting the flu vaccine over your life. A first-time recipient does receive as much protection as someone who has had the previously received it. “This relates to immunological memory, which we have, that if you encounter the flu virus, your body will mount a better response,” stated Dr. Winston. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body. The CDC recommends getting your vaccine in October but getting your’s in January is still beneficial as the season is known to last through March.

What we have learned

“With the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, this was such a difficult time in the world during WW1, we learned that the shift in the virus wasn’t gradual, it was abrupt,” stated Dr. Winston. In 1918-1919, the flu outbreak took an estimated 675,000 American lives. It was the most severe pandemic in recent history, sweeping the globe quickly and killing more than 50 million people. “There were massive changes in the surface proteins, such that the existing antibodies didn’t do much good for the strain. That is the explanation of how pandemic flu that can devastate entire communities.”

What we have learned

“With the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, this was such a difficult time in the world during WW1, we learned that the shift in the virus wasn’t gradual, it was abrupt,” stated Dr. Winston. In 1918-1919, the flu outbreak took an estimated 675,000 American lives. It was the most severe pandemic in recent history, sweeping the globe quickly and killing more than 50 million people. “There were massive changes in the surface proteins, such that the existing antibodies didn’t do much good for the strain. That is the explanation of how pandemic flu that can devastate entire communities.”

Red Cross Volunteers
Motor Corps and Canteen volunteers from the Detroit chapter of the American Red Cross, taking a break from delivering supplies to flu victims. To prepare Detroit for what was to come from the pandemic, the Red Cross and Department of Health nurses cooperated together for home visits, food preparation, and childcare.

The medical community also learned how the flu survives. “We would understand this as the term as a reservoir,” started Dr. Winston. “What is the pool of this virus? There are two main ways to look at this: the human reservoir, where the virus remains in the population, at a lower rate, even during the warmer months. The flu is also present in animals and poultry.”

Influenza starts as what is known as a zoonosis, it originates in animals, in pigs and poultry. The genetic make-up of the virus freely intermingles with the genome that is present in human influenza; this is the way that over the seasons the virus changes. When we go indoors and are in closer contact with each other during the winter, this is the perfect environment for the virus to spread.

People who get the flu shot lower their heart attack risk by about 36%

Dr. Winston pointed out that, “When you have a severe infection that puts a strain on your body’s demand, with a higher temperature also goes a higher heart rate and demand on your cardiovascular system. Basically that more significant work in fighting the infection makes you more susceptible to a heart attack.” Flu complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections can result in hospital stays. Patients with asthma may experience increase asthma attacks while they have the flu. “It’s interesting in that the flu is only very rarely directly toxic to the heart. Where it directly affects the heart’s arteries or muscle, those tend to be the fatal case.”

Specific Health Actions for People with Heart Disease or who have had a Stroke

The CDC recommends:
• Maintain a two week supply of your regular medications during flu season.
• Do not stop taking your regular medications without first consulting your doctor, especially in the event that you get the flu or another respiratory infection.
• People with heart failure should be alert to changes in their breathing and should promptly report changes to their doctor.
• If you get sick with flu symptoms call your doctor right away.

Extra prevention

Surprisingly, the CDC recommends very simple steps to prevent the risk of flu: frequent washing of your hands (at least 15 seconds with warm water and soap), avoiding contact with people with the flu, minimizing touching your nose, mouth, and eyes. It’s expected that Americans will spend over $2 billion supplements to boost immunity this flu season. “People will take high doses of Vitamin C, it’s been studied many times to show no benefit,” said Dr. Winston. “Echinacea may have a small amount of benefit to people, but you have a risk of GI upset. Vaccination is the only way to avoid the flu.”

In America, vaccines are recommended for all people over six months of age. Even with warnings, education, and the thought of caring for a child with the flu for two weeks, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital reported that 34% percent of US parents said their child was unlikely to get the flu vaccine this year. Some of the reasons given in the online poll were that they were concerned about side effects, that the vaccine doesn’t work very well and that their currently healthy child does not need to be vaccinated.

Written by: Michael Arce, Media Specialist
Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.