After suffering a sudden widowmaker heart attack, a former long-time Toronto public servant is speaking out about the medical episode that could have cost him his life.
Brad Ross, former communications official at the Toronto Transit Commission and City of Toronto, told CTV News Toronto Wednesday that he’s now recovering at home, but that the heart attack, which took place at the end of February, has acted as a “wake-up” call for the retired public servant.
“It was a very scary sort of situation,” Ross, 59, said in an interview. “If you don’t get attention, the survival rate is very, very low.”
On the morning of Feb. 27, Ross said he had finished a light 20 minute bike ride. As he prepared for his day, however, he said he found himself unable to catch his breath and growing sweaty.
“I was feeling really sort of uncomfortable around my chest, a sort of tightness,” he said. After lying down, Ross said he felt no better and was still struggling to breathe.
“Ultimately we said, ‘You know what, let’s call 911,’ because I just knew in my heart of hearts, pun intended, that perhaps I was having a heart attack.”
As soon as Ross was greeted by paramedics, he said they had him hooked up to a mobile EKG machine and were in constant communication with Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie, Ont.
Within an hour of calling 911, doctors had placed a stent in Ross’ heart, clearing the blockage.
“The blood started to flow and I felt better almost immediately,” he said, noting that the care at Royal Victoria was “amazing.”
Ross said a cardiologist talked him through a “replay” of the procedure he had just undergone and told him that the heart attack he’d suffered was called a widowmaker’ meaning that the heart’s largest artery had been blocked.
“The longer you wait for medical attention, the more damage is done to the heart,” Ross said.
Joe Ricci, Toronto cardiologist and medical director at Central East Cardiovascular Rehab, told CTV News Toronto that, of the three arteries in the heart, the left anterior descending is the largest and serves the most muscle.
While the cardiologist underlined that all heart attacks are serious, Ricci said, with a blockage of the heart’s largest artery, the “potential for death or serious complications is higher.”
“That’s why the term [widowmaker],” he said.
Ross credits his recovery to the fast decision to call for emergency services and the quality of care delivered to him, adding that he is using this moment to double down on efforts to live a healthier lifestyle.
“After I retired, I quit smoking, I started eating better. I was exercising every day,” Ross explained “But there’s no one single risk factor.”
“What I’ve learned from all of this is there are a number of risk factors to consider,” Ross said. “There are preventative things that you may be able to do or that your doctor may be able to do.”
Ricci echoed Ross’ statements, explaining that heart attacks are driven by a number of risk factors. Genetic predisposition, blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, and pre-existing conditions like Diabetes, among others, can contribute to your likelihood of a heart attack. A healthy diet and at least 150 minutes of exercise a week will also help manage risk factors, he said.
If a person is able to have their risk factors assessed by a family doctor and get those factors thoroughly treated, they can reduce their likelihood of suffering a heart attack by up to 80 per cent, Ricci said.
“You can lower your risk greatly,” he said. “We’ve made huge strides, historically, over the last 30 years in terms of prevention.”
If you’ve suffered a heart attack, Ricci said that rehabilitation and preventative measures only become more important.
“We know that starting these treatments early and getting to the health thresholds you want has a large effect, and the earlier you start and the more and more successful you are at reaching that threshold, the better you do,” he said.
While he says he never expected to suffer a major heart attack, Ross said he’s feeling grateful and focused on the upcoming months of recovery.
“I can’t really do anything for another couple of weeks and then there’s a whole cardiac rehab plan as well,” he said.
” But I’m well on my way to recovery and I’m just very grateful for the care that I got.”