BROWNE'S BLOG: Calcium test saved my life

Author: Steve Browne, Meteorologist, sbrowne@ksat.com
Published On: Mar 18 2013 11:00:11 PM CDT   Updated On: Mar 19 2013 03:57:30 AM CDT
SAN ANTONIO -

One week ago I learned for the first time that I am a victim of heart disease. Up until then I had no clue at all. Doctors always remarked how good my cholesterol numbers were. My diet tends to be low fat and I regularly exercise. Rarely do I eat a hamburger and fries. I have passed stress tests with flying colors. I thought I was in great shape. Low risk for heart problems.

It started 2 weeks ago while exercising on the elliptical machine. I usually go 20 minutes but I noticed I was pretty much out of gas at 5 minutes. I pushed for 10 minutes then had to quit. When I got home I noticed something irregular going on in my chest. Not pain but sort of a flutter. I took my pulse and noticed it was going good for two beats and then skip a beat. It kept on so I called my family doctor and they told me to come in for an EKG. They confirmed it was irregular and referred me to a cardiologist. I made an appointment for the next day.

My doctor Diane Greiner works at Northside Baptist Hospital and she put me through a series of tests including another stress test. This is where she might have saved my life. She said she wanted me to get a calcium heart scan. I had never heard of it. She said heart clogging plaques are caused by a mixture of cholesterol and calcium so revealing calcium levels in the heart shows the evidence of those dreaded plaques. She explained the test was not covered by insurance. I asked about cost and she replied $75. Do they take a credit card? You bet. Let’s git ‘er done.

The test is a simple, quick, painless X-ray scan of the heart. Despite all the other good numbers I have had over the years my calcium score came up horrible. 1300. Anything over 400 sends alarms and my score showed my heart was turning into a coral reef, a concrete block, if you will. My stress test, by the way, showed a few irregularities but nothing too alarming.

The calcium score only shows the presence of plaque but not its exact location. Next step was to schedule an angiogram. More invasive where they thread a catheter from your groin into the heart, inject dye then X-ray focused on the heart and its arteries. The angiogram disclosed a major blockage (90%) of the circumflex artery. My Doctors found the blockage and calls in the stent Docs who place a stent, kind of like a spring tube to open up the artery. One hour after the procedure began I am fixed and in recovery. The procedure sounds like it could be painful but I felt no pain, no general anesthesia just some sort of twilight drug that make you feel good and made me slur my words.

I am so happy to know my heart calcium score. Best $75 I ever spent. Wish I had done it years ago. I highly recommend you get to know your calcium score. It could save your life. It probably saved mine. Thanks to the Doctors and nurses at Northside Baptist for a job well done.