Jim Gauley's heart attack sneaked up on him. But before he had time to consider panicking, the worst was over. He views the sparing of his life as "a kind of mercy from God."
One of the first indications of that mercy came through the encouragement of Gauley's friend, Tim Hoak, principal of Heritage Christian School, where Gauley teaches math.
On the day of his heart attack, Gauley had told Hoak that he didn't feel well, all the time thinking he was suffering from a bad case of indigestion. But Hoak sensed the symptoms might be more serious and persuaded him to see family medicine physician Mike Jones, D.O., whose office was nearby.
Mike Jones, D.O.
When he arrived, my staff noticed that he was pale," Jones says. "They were very quick to get an EKG, which showed evidence of an evolving heart attack."
Jones provided initial treatment with medicines and sent Gauley to the hospital.
Doctors and clinicians in the Owensboro Health emergency department worked quickly to reduce Gauley's risk of heart damage and save his life.
"They were on me like a NASCAR pit crew," says Gauley. "It was like watching ninjas.
"Dr. Roshan Mathew was there within minutes of my arriving," says Gauley, referencing Mathew's swift arrival as another tender mercy. "He said, 'Mr. Gauley, you're in the middle of a heart attack.'"
Gauley said he watched in amazement how everyone came to his aid. Less than an hour later, the three blocked arteries that had caused the heart attack had been opened.
"I was in the cath lab 45 minutes, no more than an hour," Gauley says. "In God's providence again, the quickness of how everything went was a means of me having my life preserved."
As he left the treatment area, Gauley says, Hoak asked, "How do you feel?"
"I don't know if it was the elation of realizing what I had just avoided, and how blessed by God's grace I had been, but I replied something like, 'I feel good—like James Brown!'
"I was so thankful to have had such good medical care from our cardiac care unit at our hospital, and someone with as much experience and expertise as Dr. Mathew. He was great."
Time is Muscle—Heart Muscle
A heart attacking occurs when a diseased blood vessel in the heart becomes narrowed because of plaque buildup and a blood clot forms, shutting off the blood supply to a portion of the heart. Within a short time, the heart muscle begins to die. But for heart attack victims who receive treatment right away, chances of survival significantly improve.
Because blood blow was restored to Gauley's heart quickly, Mathew told him he would not have lasting damage.
In Gauley's case, quick treatment was even more significant, as he experienced what's nicknamed "the widowmaker"—a severe heart attack that occurs when one of the three main arteries leading to the heart is blocked.
"Unfortunately, people often delay going to the emergency department by disregarding heart attack symptoms and delaying treatment," says Mathew, a cardiologist at Green River Heart. "If a heart attack is happening, you can't wish it away—you have to act as quickly as possible.
"Primary treatment options include giving the patient medicines that will dissolve the blood clot, or opening the artery with a balloon and inserting a stent to keep it open."
Warning signs include pressure or pain in the enter of the chest lasting more than a few minutes, often spreading to the shoulders neck, back or arms. Other indicators include light-headedness, nause, shortness of breath (typical in women), or an increased or irregualy heartbeat.
Gauley's symptoms began as a slight twinge in his chest or his short walk to work the morning of his heart attack. He never considered that his heart was the problem.
Even as symptoms progressed into a dull pain and an overall weakness, Gauley thought it was indigestion, an ailment he frequently encounters.
"I always thought a heart attack would feel like a knife stabbing you," he says.
Gauley points to his family history and a number of lifestyle habits as factors that raised his risk for heart disease. His father died of a heart attack at age 47, and Gauley had his when he was 49.
As a young adult, he remained active, played sports, and didn't gain weight. He also didn't see a doctor for regular checkups. As the years progressed, pounds started to add up because of poor food choices and lack of physical activity.
Stress mounted with a busy schedule that included his full-time work teaching mathematics, tutoring after school, raising a family, sending his kids to college and taking on responsibilities at church.
"Very slowly, bit by bit, my body slowed down, " says Gauley.
But that's all different now. He has freed up his busy schedule. He has an exercise regimen that includes an hour of cardio three times a week. He sees his doctor regularly and has eliminated food containing sugars and saturated fats from his diet.
Gauley says his wife, RaeAnne, has been instrumental in helping him eat healthier, which has benefitted their entire household.
"She's made major changes in our diet as a family," Gauley says. "I am so grateful for her support through all of this."
He now eats salads and yogurt sprinkled with flaxseed. Meats include mainly chicken and fish. "There are still plenty of foods to enjoy—fruit, vegetables and nuts."
The results? In only a few months, Gauley lost 25 pounds. "I was shocked at how easy the weight was coming off."
Gauley describes his new lifestyle as a "ticket of grace" from God. "I was not wise, but God was mercifuly. And I'm grateful."