By REBECA KUROPATWA
A heart problem is one of the more serious health scares anyone can face. The Jewish Post & News has consulted with four people who have experienced serious cardiac events to get their perspectives on a tough issue.
“Throughout my life elderly people have always said ‘Abi Gezunt’ (at least you’re healthy) and it was incomprehensible to me that a change in health would radically alter the rest of my life,” said Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig.
“I was invincible. I was superman. Now that I have complications, I can never make up for the abuse I caused my own body.”
Rosenzweig (65) is a widower, born in the DP camp of Wizenhopf outside of Innsbruck, Austria, raised and currently living in Windsor, ON. He also spent a number of years in Winnipeg. He is a rabbi (ret), educator, composer, musician, and writer.
“In 1998, I began feeling slight pains (more like charlie-horses) in my chest. When my physician sent me for an angio-gram the next day, four 80-90 percent blockages were found and I had a quadruple bypass performed the next day.
“I only suffered from what I thought were charlie-horses in my chest and when the doctor suspected a heart condition, I denied it and was unwilling to go for an angio-gram. His response was to refuse to continue as my doctor unless I accepted his prognosis.
“After a year I started having complications and eventually had to undergo extensive surgeries and treatments for two years.
“Take the advice of your doctor while you’re still relatively healthy. You can never catch up.”
Ralph Kuropatwa’s (72) maternal grandfather died when he had his first heart attack at the age of 62.
“My father had his first cardiac event also at 62, which he survived,” said Kuropatwa. “At the age of 79, he was diagnosed with a blood-related cancer and died when he was 80. His heart had held up.
“When I turned 70, I was found to have four arteries that fed oxygen to the muscles around the heart and were now obstructed to 90 percent of their diameter. They were in Y junctions of the heart muscle and I was advised to have a quadruple bypass which would require open heart surgery.
“I was reluctant to undergo such an invasive procedure and was retested with an angiogram which is believed to give the best available measures. With the degree of blockage now showing at 70 percent, I entered a UBC [University of British Columbia] research program which addressed my condition with a mix of medication dosage adjustments, supervised moderate exercise, and a target for weight loss.”
Kuropatwa was also diagnosed with Ischemia, which explained his difficulties breathing and sensitivity of his extremities to cold temperatures. “The first sign of angina occurred a day or so after I returned to Winnipeg from a contract in Germany.
“Like a caricature of a male, I didn’t mention the event to anyone, but by Day 3 following the episode, my wife’s suspicions weren’t avoidable, so I ‘fessed up.
“The physician we went to see was brutally frank about my stupidity in not coming to him immediately upon the event, and that I was luckier than I deserved in, as much as there were no signs of serious damage resulting from the reporting delay, there now was confirmation that my heart functioning was affected.”
Before this event, Kuropatwa had little-to-no knowledge of heart matters. “I’ve since learned more than I ever wanted to, but it keeps me compliant on medication usage, inconsistently compliant on the regime of adequate moderate exercise, and hopelessly non-compliant on bringing my weight down to the medically desired level.
“Do not do what I did. Seek medical attention at the very first sign. It may indeed be wiser to learn as much about the heart and its functions as possible before any problems arise. This may include setting a baseline with one’s physician, setting a level for medication, exercise, and weight, while still considered a healthy person with a healthy heart.
“I’d also urge balance on the degree to which one shares one’s symptoms and risks. Share enough so loved ones aren’t shocked when the next step occurs, but don’t share so much that loved ones are unnecessarily worried and frightened for you.”
Dr. Richard Boroditzky (69), Gynaecologist and Victoria General Hospital’s Medical Director of the Mature Women’s Centre, probably delivered over 6000 babies over the years.
As his family history includes a high prevalence of metabolic syndrome (i.e. high blood pressure, diabetes, abnormal cholesterol/lipids, and obesity), Boroditzky said, “Knowing I’m high risk made me aware I need to watch for symptoms and such.
“About two or three years ago I began thinking I might have angina (‘angina’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘chocking’), which, in my case was pretty atypical. I was experiencing pain in the jaw and it didn’t only appear on exertion.
“Any pain from the belly button to the eyes that gets worse with exertion is angina.”
Boroditzky and his wife, Diane, went on a mission to Israel at the end of October, one that included a lot of exertion.
On the trip, Boroditzky said, “I had some jaw pain, but sometimes I didn’t, so I kind of ignored it. Then, we went to Turkey from about the 11th to the 21st. Around the 18th or 19th I noticed the pain getting worse with exertion. There was this hill we climbed, which I now call ‘cardiac hill.’
“The first night it hurt. The second night it was a lot worse. So, I decided this was angina. I decided not to talk to anyone on the trip about it, hope that god and the angels were with me, and I started munching on aspirin. Thank god, I got home.
“We returned to Winnipeg Nov. 22 and went out to Gimli on Nov. 23. It was such a beautiful day, so we went into the hot tub. I came out feeling okay, lay down, and then had severe pain in the jaw. With this sudden pain that didn’t go away, I called 911.
“They got there in five minutes, took me to a hospital, called the St. Boniface cardiac unit, gave me drugs, and brought me there. From the time I had the cardiac event to the time I was in the Cath Lab at St. Boniface was probably about 21/2 hours.
“They put two stents into the heart vessels, and since then it’s sort of been uneventful. I was kept for three days in the hospital and then went home for six weeks of what they call ‘cardiac rest.’
“What I had was a heart attack, where there was damage to the muscle. There was decreased oxygen from which it didn’t completely recover. A piece of the muscle in the heart died. But the hope is that you’ll get new blood vessels forming and increased blood flow to the heart.
“I probably could have prevented some damage if I had a stent put in earlier. Even though I knew a lot about heart conditions before, denial is very good.
“I knew something was going to happen, so I was already planning to decrease my work drastically within a year. With this attack, my plan has been moved up a year. I can’t do anything about my genes, but I probably should have done something about it sooner when I was feeling the pain.”
Rabbi Avrohom Altein is the longtime Director of Chabad in Winnipeg.
“When a person’s life is on the line and you don’t know if you’re going to make it, you have a different perspective on life and what’s important,” said Altein. “The small and trivial things people get upset and fight about aren’t important anymore. What really means a lot to me is to focus on the important things in life.
“In my case, my heart stopped at one point and I felt that part of my brain go black. I had a stent put into my heart to keep it open.
“My professional position is very demanding. I start working from very early hours in the morning and work straight through until late at night. I have many responsibilities.
“There’s a lot of disagreement in the medical community about what actually causes a heart attack. Some say its stress, others say its anger or being upset, some say its cholesterol and triglycerides, while others say its diet or exercise.
“Getting caught up in anger or depression is of course so destructive. To me, what’s most important is how you look at life – not getting caught up in anger – having a broader, healthier look at life.”