Fifty-year-old Ed Gartner of Ramsey, NJ, has built his life around living a healthy and active lifestyle. As a community recreational director, tennis instructor, and competitive tennis player himself who prides himself on fitness, a heart condition was the last thing he thought would keep him out of the game.
After taking several weeks off from his normal workout routine following elbow surgery to fix a torn tendon, Ed was anxious to start exercising again. “I was expecting to be out of shape after taking that much time off,” he said. “But what I wasn’t expecting was the discomfort I felt in my chest. I wouldn’t describe it as painful, but more like a tightening in my chest.”
Ed attributed the discomfort to being out of shape, but the next time he went running he felt the same discomfort after one lap of running. Though he kept running, he started to think it might be something more serious than just being out of shape, especially considering he could ride a stationary bike and do the elliptical machine at moderate intensity without feeling discomfort.
Ed made a doctor’s appointment. His doctor performed an electrocardiogram (EKG) to measure his heart’s electrical activity, a sonogram (also known as a cardiac ultrasound), and a stress test. His doctor also checked his blood pressure and did blood work to check Ed’s cholesterol levels. All of the test results came back normal and he was told everything looked good.
He again tried to return to his normal exercise routine. When he went hiking with his daughter, he noticed his chest discomfort was slowly getting worse. He could barely make it up the first hill before being out of breath. But it wasn’t until he was playing tennis that he knew something was definitely wrong. While playing he was forced to stop every 5 to 10 minutes to catch his breath.
“It was a random Sunday afternoon and thankfully I was in the right place at the right time, and was introduced to Ajay,” he said. “I explained my symptoms and how they were getting more and more prevalent.”
Luckily for Ed, Dr. Ajay Kirtane is an interventional cardiologist at Columbia University/New York-Presbyterian Hospital and recognized his symptoms as possibly something more severe. But because Ed had recently had a negative stress test, rather than proceeding with more invasive testing right away, he recommended Ed undergo coronary CT angiography (CTA), a noninvasive, heart-imaging test that creates a visual of the heart, blood circulation, and blood vessels. The CTA results showed Ed had a 95 percent blockage in his heart.
Ed discussed his treatment options with Dr. Kirtane, who weighed the pros and cons of medical therapy alone versus angioplasty, a minimally invasive procedure to open the clogged vessel. If Ed chose medical therapy, he would likely need to avoid high-intensity activities, which would drastically limit his active lifestyle. Additionally with Ed’s severe blockage and progressive symptoms, the likelihood of successful disappearance of his discomfort with medical therapy alone would be low.
Ed decided angioplasty would be the best option for him, and less than a week later he underwent the procedure on a Monday morning. Taking into consideration that Ed is a right-handed tennis player and needed to teach tennis later in the week, Dr. Kirtane was able to open the blockage and place a small tube-like stent in Ed’s blocked right coronary artery by going through the artery in his left wrist.
“I couldn’t believe how easy the procedure was,” said Ed. “It took about 40 minutes and I was awake for the entire length of it and felt minimal discomfort. I was even able to watch the procedure on camera while it was happening.”
Several hours after the procedure, Ed was walking around the hospital. He went home the next day and taught tennis later that week. “I couldn’t believe the difference. Two weeks before the procedure I couldn’t even walk down the street without getting headaches and experiencing chest discomfort,” said Ed. “Then two weeks following the procedure I slowly started working myself back into my exercise routine and was feeling better than I had felt in years.”
Just two months later, Ed was already back to running, hiking, biking, and tennis and he even beat Dr. Kirtane in two sets of competitive tennis to thank him for giving him his lifestyle back!
“Looking back I realize I hadn’t been 100 percent for a couple of years, but just thought it was because I was getting older,” said Ed. “The difference is unbelievable.”