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Heart attack: Survivor tells his story, lessons learned

By Nathan L. Hanks Jr. | Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany | March 1, 2016


Disclaimer:  This story contains graphic content regarding the subject’s symptoms and treatment during his recent heart attack.

It felt as though an elephant was standing on his chest or someone was squeezing his heart is how Angelo Knox described his recent heart attack that began, Jan. 18.

Knox, 49, is an equal employment specialist with Civilian Human Resource Office-Southeast, Marine Corps Installations East, and works aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 43 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack.   Every year, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack and of that, 525,000 have their first heart attack, according to website, www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/heart_attack.htm.

“That evening I started having serious chest pains, to the point I could not lay down,” Knox said. “My left arm started to feel tingly and started to get a little bit numb. I took an aspirin and made an appointment with my doctor.”

The next available appointment was Jan. 20, two days after his symptoms started, he said.

“My doctor then diagnosed me as having a muscle spasm,” Knox said. “So I went back to work with medication for spasms.”

The following Sunday night, Jan. 24, Knox’s chest pains returned but this time they were more severe.

“I have dislocated my shoulder and I have gotten hit over the head with a baseball bat but none of the pain was like the pain I felt that night,” he exclaimed. “Then both arms went numb.”

Knox endured the pain throughout the night and the next morning went to work.

Knowing something was not right, he took his blood pressure at work. He then called Naval Branch Health Clinic - Albany and spoke to one of his family members who work there.

After explaining his symptoms to her, she immediately said “you might need to go to the emergency room,” he said.

Concerned about his blood pressure reading, he went to NBHC only to confirm his blood pressure was in fact very low.

“I went to Phoebe East Convenient Care, Albany, Ga., and not even five minutes after I got there, the doctor came back and said you are going to the emergency room, there is something wrong with your heart,” Knox stated. “So, they brought an ambulance. I went code three to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital with a mask on my face. They automatically admitted me to the emergency room and began to run a bunch of tests.

“The next morning they got everything stable and the cardiologist came in and said I had suffered from a Myocardial Infarction, which means a heart attack,” he continued. “I had been suffering from a heart attack since January 18 and I actually went to work almost every day that week.”

Graphically, Knox described how the doctors at the hospital conducted a catheterization by cutting a hole, about the size of a tip of an ink pen, in his right wrist.

“They went up through the arm and across the chest and started taking live video shots of my heart,” he said. “So, I am sitting there in surgery watching a 50-inch screen of my heart while the doctors show me my blocked blood vessels.

“The blood vessels right beneath my heart were blocked in two different areas, probably about two inches apart,” he said. “One was almost completely closed, about 95 percent, and the other one, in the same artery, was 75 percent blocked.”

Knox, who received two stints Jan. 25 to help keep the blood vessels open, stated high cholesterol, improper diet and not exercising were the causes of the blockage.

“High cholesterol caused so much build-up that the heart was trying to pump the blood but it was being stopped,” he said. “If it were not for the poor eating habits, which I had most of my life, and lack of exercise, I would not have this problem.”

Exercising is very important to stay healthy, said Knox, who retired from the Marine Corps in 2005, achieving the rank of staff sergeant.

“I’ve been retired going on 11 years now and when I retired from the Marine Corps, I retired from exercising,” he said. “And that is not a good thing.

“This body is a temple and I should have treated it as such and I did not,” he noted. “I was abusing it. I thought because of my appearance, I am not overweight and not past a certain age, everything was all right. None of that made a difference.

“Heart disease is not a joke,” Knox continued. “It does not discriminate. It does not care if you are black, white, male, female, young or old. If you don’t treat your heart right or your body right, it will eventually shut down.

“These blockages did not happen in one week,” he said. “There have been symptoms and chest pains in the past but I, being a man, ignored them because I could endure the pain. It was a progression. The blood vessels had closed over a long period of time and it was because I was not taking care of myself.”

Knox said the heart attack was a wake-up call and made him realize he was not “Superman.”

“My saying to some of my coworkers now is that Superman has left the building,” he said. “I am no longer going to be the person who will endure everything and ignore my body. When I feel pain, I will seek assistance.

“Sometimes, we as men, are the most stubborn ones,” he said. “Oh, it is nothing and it will go away. Well, if it is playing with the heart, its not going to go away, it can take you away. Please don’t be too big or too strong to say I’m hurting and I need to seek some help.”

Knox, who continues to stay on his strict diet ordered by his doctor, stated there are several ways to help prevent a heart attack for both men and women.

“Get your annual check ups regardless of age, eat right and exercise,” he stressed.

Having a heart attack is a lifestyle alteration and it made Knox focus on what was really important in life, his family, he confessed.

“This May, my wife and I will be married for 25 years and have been together for 27 years,” he said. “I am a father, I’m a husband and I’m a grandfather. The heart attack made me realize that, wow, I could have lost all of this.”

Knox said he would always remember the unbearable pain of the heart attack as well as the hospital stay.

“It’s a scary feeling not knowing if you are going to make it,” he admitted. “When the lights go out in that hospital room and all my loved ones have left, the question that kept running through my mind was am I going to wake up in the morning.”

For more information about symptoms and how to prevent a heart attack, visit www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/.