Bart Walker doesn’t view himself as survivor.
The voice of Murfreesboro, Bart Walker, warns of ignoring the warning signs of heart disease. Walker ignored them and narrowly escaped a heart attack. (TMP/ M. Willard)
“I was so surprised,” Walker said about being the honoree for the 2011 Rutherford County Heart Walk. “I didn’t realize I was a survivor.”
The Heart Walk will be held at 3 p.m. Sun., Oct. 30 at MTMC, located at 1700 Medical Center Pkwy. with activities beginning at 1 p.m. and ending at 4 p.m. Walker, the president of the local radio station WGNS, thought he was doing everything right. The 67-year-old had started eating healthy and working out at the Wellness Center at MTMC.
But a routine procedure found three blocked arteries that would have led to a heart attack, and he found himself as one of the millions of Americans suffering from heart disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control. In 2006, a reported 631,636 people died of heart disease, which accounted for 26 percent of deaths in the U.S.
Most people know tightness in the chest is one of the main symptoms of a heart attack, but most, including Walker, didn’t realize discomfort in other parts of the upper body can also be a sign.
“For a period of time – for several months – I had tightness around my stomach,” Walker said, adding he thought it was a strained muscle from working out. So he changed his workout routine and never mentioned it to his doctor, Tom Wolohon.
“I didn’t want to say something because I had something planned or something to do,” Walker said.
At the beginning of June, he went on a trip to New Orleans for the annual Rotary International Convention with his wife, Lee Ann, where he had the same tightness everyday.
He made excuses for not feeling up to par during the trip, like telling Lee Ann his legs were tired from all the walking. But the experience made him wonder what exactly was going on with his body.
After Walker returned from his trip, he called his doctor and set up an appointment.
Wolohon gave him an EKG, or electrocardiogram, which showed Walker did not have a heart attack. He then took a cardiac stress test and was X-rayed. This is where Wolohon found a problem and told Walker he would have to see a cardiologist.
As luck would have it, Walker met his cardiologist at the Secret Garden Party just a day after making an appointment with Dr. Britt Mioton.
Walker explained his symptoms to Mioton at the party. And the good doctor gave Walker his cell phone number and told him to call if he had the symptoms again.
“I thought, ‘This is not a good sign,’” Walker said.
He saw Mioton again the following Monday and got his results: Walker needed a stint.
“I had only been in the hospital once and that was when I was 5 years old and had broken my arm,” Walker said.
While at MTMC, Mioton injected Walker with dye and found three blocked arteries, one of which is called “the widowmaker.”
“One is called the widowmaker,” Walker said.
Even though Walker was sedated from the dye test, Mioton decided not to take any chances and ordered the patient to be taken to St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville immediately.
On the way out of the hospital, a groggy Walker saw several friends and was frustrated when the emergency medical technicians wouldn’t stop the stretcher to let him talk.
Once in Nashville, he had a triple bypass.
But before the surgery, Walker learned exactly what faith-based care really means.
His daughter Kristin asked the surgeon and nurses to pray before the surgery.
“There were a dozen people working, buzzing around like a bunch of bees,” Walker said. “When she said that, they stopped, put their hands on me and prayed.
“They say this hospital is faith-based, [but] I didn’t realize how faith based it was until then.”
He spent the next week in the intensive care unit.
“We’ve never seen a group of such caring people,” he said about his stay in the hospital.
Walker has spent the past few months recovering from his triple bypass, walking on the treadmill every day, slowly easing himself back into work at WGNS and even trying a little housework.
“At first I couldn’t drive, couldn’t work, couldn’t do much of anything …” he said. “I really wanted to get well because I’m not a good patient.”
Now that Walker is on the road to recovery, he wants to warn others about the mistakes he made.
“There is never a convenient time to tell the doctor, or someone, that something is wrong …” he said. “If you notice something different tell your doctor. … I was very fortunate that I didn’t have a heart attack.”