In August 2006 a relative of mine had severe leg cramps that kept reoccurring night after night. He wishes to remain anonymous, so I will call him JR. They reminded him of the growing pains he used to have as a child, but these pains were much more severe. Their daughter suggested a heart attack. The question is: Are leg pains the sign of a heart attack?
JR’s son is a general practicing physician and also wishes to be anonymous I’ll call him “Dr. Son.” JR’s wife asked Dr. Son what it might be and he suggested a calcium deficiency and he said to eat a big baked potato smothered in butter. sour cream and cheddar cheese. They took his advice but the leg pains continued.
It was always at night the pain came
His foot would be so misshapen or distorted as if the foot muscles were being shrunk up into his ankle, causing the foot to turn on its side. He would get out of bed to try and walk off the leg cramp.
When they visited their general practitioner they asked him about JR’s leg pains. Again their doctor thought it was a calcium deficiency. What else could it be?
One day in Feb of 07 JR had a harrowing day at work and that night he got the “mother of all leg cramps”. He got up and went into the family room to sit in his recliner. His wife, Mia (assumed name) got up to sit with him.
As JR sat there, another cramp came and he tried to nurse it to get it to go away, but it didn’t leave, He got up again, thinking he could “walk it out.”
This time he became paralyzed in pain. He couldn’t move his leg but had attempted to walk, which threw him off balance and he fell head-first into his recliner. Tears were streaming down his face unless they were “great drops of sweat.”
The episode passed and JR and his wife went back to bed. A couple of days later, Mia was talking to their Dr. son and she mentioned the incident to him. He said: “let me talk to him. Put Dad on the phone right now!” JR was still in bed and Mia called in to him to pick up the phone, but JR said he couldn’t talk.
Mia assumed JR was in the bathroom, away from the phone. Dr. Son said, “Well if he has another attack like this, you call 911 and you get him to the ER STAT. That’s the only way you will know what is happening or going on.”
It wasn’t until the next morning that JR told Mia he was in the middle of another attack when Dr. Son had wanted to talk to him the night before.
Their daughter mentioned her father-in-law had had a heart attack and the pain was in his leg. That was enough for Mia. She decided JR needed to see the doctor. In trying to set up an appointment, they were unable to get one for 4 more days
JR’s appointment was with their regular doctor. They visited him that next Monday. The doctor found nothing to be concerned about. As Mia and JR were getting ready to leave what felt like empty-handed, the doctor popped back in and said, “I think I’ll get an EKG before you leave, just to make sure it’s not your heart.”
What is a “Left Bundle Branch Block”?
Well that EKG showed JR had a “Left Bundle Branch Block”.
The doctor was concerned and said JR needed to see a specialist. The doctor didn’t set up an appointment for them, however, and it was another month before they could get in to see the Cardiologist, I’ll call him Dr. C for Cardiologist. Dr C wasn’t specifically concerned but set up an Angiogram to be done in a week.
A week later, JR drove the car 45 minutes to the Angiogram appointment. Then he pushed Mia (wife) in a wheelchair from the parking lot up 3 stories in the elevator, and then down a long winding hallway. They went too far and had to turn back again. He was huffing and puffing so much that Mia asked him if maybe he should be in the wheelchair and she should push him? But JR, being the man that he is, said “No. I’m fine”
Before they left home for JR’s appointment, Mia had the thought that JR should take some overnight clothes, just in case he had to stay over in the hospital. But the thought was dismissed and they left without anything for an overnight stay.
Mia waited in the waiting room while JR was having the Angiogram procedure. When the doctor came to get her, saying “come with me,” she didn’t know what to expect but went with him into the room where the procedure was performed. Dr. C wanted her to look at JR’s heart on a leg angiogram procedure video. She couldn’t see it, so he pointed at the screen with a pointer. “Look – at his heart. See how it is pumping?” Mia still didn’t see anything and said, “where?”
7% Ejection Factor
The doctor had to point it out to her and then took his hand and opened it up with all fingers extended and then closed his hand into a fist a couple of times saying: “THIS is how the heart is supposed to be pumping.”
Then holding his hand open again and barely moving it he said: “this is how JR’s heart IS pumping.” The Cardiologist also pointed out a 70% occlusion at a Junction point, which made a stent impossible, and open heart surgery necessary.
However, if they tried to do surgery now, JR would die on the operating table because his heart had nothing to give at that point. He would have to regain some strength back to about 55%- ejection factor before surgery could be performed.
The doctor informed Mia that JR was going to have an Echocardiogram and then would go straight to ICU. Since the Cardiology dept was on a wing of the hospital, it was a quick trip to ICU. Mia then went downstairs to have JR admitted to the hospital.
Little did Mia know that the doctor expected that JR would take one more breath and it would be his last. No one lives, with a 7 % ejection factor, with the exception of JR it seems.
Dr. Son flew in from the west coast and mentioned his Superior had said: “how can your dad even be alive with a 7% ejection factor?”
All of their children came home, expecting to attend a funeral. JR had been attempting to do the finish carpentry work on their new home with a heart that was barely functioning. No wonder it was taking him so long to finish their house. They couldn’t move in until it was finished and approval was given by the city, so their children all pitched in and finished their parent’s new home while their dad lay in the hospital bed 40 miles away.
“Many hands make light work”
The term “many hands make light work” was never truer. After 3 days in the hospital, JR said “ well, you probably need this bed for someone else, and I might as well go home to die. If that’s what you are waiting for, it ain’t happenin’.”
So home they went, and the children continued to do the finished carpentry and painting on their new home so their parents could move in.
Thankfully there was no funeral and with the modern medications of a decade ago, after a month JR’s heart had increased in strength and had a count of 30% ejection factor. Then by August, the ejection factor had risen to 55% and open-heart surgery was finally an option.
Eight years later
Eight years later JR’s heart started to slow back down to 20% ejection factor, which is when Hospice is usually brought in. JR got a pacemaker at this time, at 20% and they learned that his original pain in his leg was probably HIS heart attack. (Learn more HERE)
He had had an earlier heart attack! That’s another story for another article. I’ll put the link in when I get it written. Suffice it to say. JR is still living with his heart pumping at a 28% ejection factor. He tires very easily, has lost a lot of muscle, and keeps himself busy “puttering” around the house.
Sometimes heart attacks don’t show up as textbook maladies. You should learn what the warning signs are for heart attack or stroke if you don’t know. Knowing them could mean the difference between life and death for you or a loved one.
Thank you for reading this and leaving your comments.
DISCLAIMER: I remind you that I am not a medical professional. I am not saying that you will have the same results as I write about. Nothing I have said should be misconstrued to mean I give any advice. Should you have unresolved pain or other problems you should always contact your doctor for professional care.
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