Gandolfini's death puts heart attacks in spotlight

7:06 PM, Jun 20, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - Actor James Gandolfini's sudden death has put heart attack prevention in the national spotlight.

University of Minnesota's Chief of Clinical Cardiology Dr.  Robert Wilson says 600,000 American suffer similar hearts attack each year, a statistic that can be reduced if a person stops smoking and considers family history.

"The first thing I thought was, 'He looks like somebody who would have had a heart attack.' He is overweight," said Wilson.

Gandolfini's son, Michael, called for help after discovering his father collapsed in a bathroom, according to the manager of the Italian hotel where the "The Sopranos" star was staying.

The Emmy-winning actor was later pronounced dead Wednesday at age 51. Reports initially show he was conscious when the ambulance arrived, but later at the hospital could not be revived.

Wilson said most importantly, smoking puts you at the greatest risk for a heart attack and he recommends everyone should have their cholesterol checked.

"If you have a parent or grandparent that died from the heart attack under the age of 60 you should really take note, and if you are man over 45 years old, or a woman over 55 years old, until you are 80-years-old you should be taking a baby aspirin every day," said Wilson.

Wilson said generally stress tests are 75 percent accurate, but tells his patients the testing technology --including CT angiograms -- is not generally as accurate as prevention.

"Unless you have symptoms or a lot of risk factors, stress testing or advanced testing really isn't going to benefit you," he said.

Phil Filiatrault, 68, of Ramsey, adds that diet and exercise should be paramount, something he didn't practice before he nearly died from a severe heart attack last year.

Filiatrault is the owner of the All-American Engineering and Manufacturing, Inc. in White Bear Lake and says he wouldn't be able to do the work he loves today if it hadn't been for the speed of the EMTs and doctors who cared for him after his first symptoms of a heart attack.

Filiatrault was driving to his second home in Duluth last April when he started experience extreme chest pain. His wife called 911 immediately and an ambulance arrived with minutes. He soon learned he was experiencing the most extreme form of a heart attack called a STEMI.  He had three stents put into one blocked artery a short time later at the hospital. He credits the technology and communication between his first responders and doctors.

"Time is of the essence if you don't have it done fast, you have heart damage," said Filiatrault.
If it hadn't been done I would have died. That is as serious as you get."

In 2011, 2,284 Minnesotans suffered a STEMI, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

"Only 10 to 15 years ago, this type of heart attack was almost a guaranteed death sentence but improvements in EMS training and response and coordination with the hospital cath lab to get the stent in and arteries open in under 90 minutes is what saved his life and many others," said Elizabeth Warmka, spokeswoman for the American Heart Association in the Twin Cities metro area.

Filiatrault said he feels responsibility to his doctors in his second chance and since has cut fats, sugars and sodium from his diet. He's lost more than 75 pounds.

"It has made me recognize that life on this earth is precious and wonderful if I want to stay here, I have to change the way I live," said Filiatrault. "Will I ever have another heart attack? Who knows, but the chance is must less than it was back then."

"We have one of the highest heart attack survival rates in the country and that is related to the combination of getting help rapidly and once you get to the hospital having teams of people to ascertain the problem," said Wilson.

The American Heart Association says while the Twin Cities has some of the best treatment times for heart attacks, rural areas are lagging behind. The organization just launched a program called "Mission: Lifeline" which boosts $6.5 million in funding to better train rural EMTs, helping them improve diagnosis, triage and treatment of heart attack patients outstate.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of a heart attack should call 911 immediately. They include chest discomfort or pressure, discomfort in other areas of upper body such as left arm, jaw, stomach or upper back, shortness of breath as well as nausea, cold sweats or light headed and dizzy sensations.

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