Lifestyles Editor William Wright had been in search of an answer for the aching sensations that sent him from one doctor to another. Answers to their questions, however, only raised more questions in a mystery that had him racing with time to discover what was threatening his life.
“I had some form of worsening asthma, according to Dr. Ahmad Ibrahmbacha (Basha),” Wright explained. “My breathing score was getting lower from the last time he saw me and he prescribed oxygen, an inhalant powder and a rescue inhaler. I resisted, believing I had a shortness of breath, because it did not feel that way to me,” he said. “But my scores did not lie. Still, I could not believe the painful sensations that smothered my lungs was asthma. It went down into my arms with a burning cringe that lasted from five to 20 minutes and it was happening more often. Dr. Basha felt I should see a heart doctor right away.”
When Wright went to see Dr. James L. Marcum, with the Chattanooga Heart Institute in Cleveland, and explained his symptoms, Marcum agreed to set up a stress test but suggested he take Prilosec for heartburn and eat earlier in the day. Surprisingly, Wright said that alieviated some of his pain and felt he was on the road to recovery.
But what looked like recovery was only a mask.
When he went to Dollywood to cover a story about the new water roller coaster, Wright and his wife, Linda, were confronted with the usual walk to each distination. And those walks exposed his real problem.
“People twice my age and weight were passing me!” Wright said. “It was so confusing. I used the asthma emergency inhaler but to no avail. This was not asthma. This was not heartburn. I could barely walk 25 steps and not feel totally exhausted.” He said. Looking back, he knew he could have had a heart attack out there and died, but was later told his heart was very strong. “I could not wait for my stress test appointment which was the following week!”
Right after the stress test, Wright was asked to lay down quickly and hold his breath to get an accurate reading. The reading was abnormal. There was a problem, but this machine could not pinpoint it. Dr. Marcum happened to be there at that very moment, saw the abnormality and made an urgent appointment for Wright for the very next day, using the “gold standard” for discovering any heart problem.
“In the meantime,” Marcum said, “I don’t want you walking up a flight of stairs or doing anything stressful until you get that test,.”
“Dr. Marcum was on his was to Russia the following day, so I consider it a special blessing that he was there to take care of this matter and then turn it over to one of his colleagues,” Wright said. “I was told I may need a stint and thoughts of my own father’s demise a week after refusing stints went through my head. I happily agreed and they decide to keep me in the hospital overnight.”
When the test was over Dr. Andrew Fowler immediately sat down next to Wright and said, “Stints won’t fix this. You’re going to need bypass on five of the arteries leading to your heart. We’ll have to get someone who can handle this.”
Wright said he and his wife were told he had inherited damage to his lungs, but apparently had never been diagnosed for it.
“I was always under the assumption that after having double pnuemonia as a child my lungs were weak and my stamina was impacted,” Wright said. “Yes, I have always felt those aching sensations in my chest as a child, but it was when I exerted myself too much. Now it was happening everytime I walked up a flight of stairs!”
Even with diet and exercise, a person with inherited damage to the lungs, heart or other organs can do just so much. But the greater success for a healthier life lies with routine physical checkups and getting the best treatment.
"If it was not for the constant support of my wife who decided to treat this like a heart problem - putting me on a special heart diet and surprising me with a case of red wine even before we knew what this was - I may not have made it. I thank Jehovah for her and for His support through family, friends and a very skilled medical staff. I hope this helps raise awareness about a problem that nearly put me six feet under."
Wright added he is glad he and his wife "did not give up in our search for the answer to this medical mystery. I had great doctors all around who continue to look after my health and look into my past to determine what’s best for me today.”
He said he could not have asked for a better heart surgeon than Dr. Richard Morrison, who not only gave him reassurance, but gave him the best possible care he could have asked for. “He respected my religious beliefs and treated the whole person, which contributed to my recovery,” he continued. “And those wonderful nurses at Memorial Hospital, where I had my surgery, treated me like family. They were patient, caring, attentive, very thoughtful, but always so positive and humorous that it gave me a new spirit of recovery.”
But, he added, “I’ll save that story for another day and time.”