Recognizing and Treating Cardiovascular Disease

By Lauren Wanko

“It’s an experience that I would never want to relive,” said Luke Ray of Brick Township.

At just 39 years old, the father of five had a heart attack. As he was walking up the steps, he felt a tightness in his chest and pain in his jaw and arm, something he’d been experiencing for about two weeks.

“I figured, OK all the other ones went away so this will go away,” he said.

But it didn’t. Ray went to the hospital that day.

“They were putting IVs everywhere. That was scary because I didn’t know what was going on,” he said.

“For men, it’s still considered to be the leading cause of morbidity of mortality,” said Dr. Ashish Patel.

The American Heart Association indicates more than one in three men has some form of cardiovascular disease. It caused the deaths of more than 386,000 males in 2009. The New Jersey Department of Health indicates statewide, 8,989 men died of heart disease in 2012.

“What we typically consider cardiovascular disease to be compromises of coronary artery disease, which are blockages in the heart arteries,” Dr. Patel said.

Meridian CardioVascular Network’s Dr. Patel says heart disease also encompasses conditions like high blood pressure, heart rhythm disorders, stroke and cholesterol issues. He says it’s difficult to identify one particular factor that leads to heart disease in men. Women are typically at a higher risk of developing the conditions.

“However, with men there also are issues such as lifestyle decisions, smoking, body habitus, being overweight, that happen at a higher incidence than women,” the doctor said.

“I had diet issues and I was overweight,” Ray said.

The business owner says work caused a significant amount of stress too. Ray also has a family history — his father had a heart attack at 42, followed by two open heart surgeries.

Dr. Patel says 10 to 15 years ago, open heart surgery was typically the only option to treat most aspects of heart disease, but in recent years, that’s changed and he’s since started performing newer, non-surgical procedures on patients.

Like a lead-less pacemaker. A traditional pacemaker is a device inserted under the skin. It’s used to treat a slow heart rate, says the doctor.

“That whole entire system has been miniaturized to a four centimeter long device that is the size of a triple A battery that is put in through a non-surgical single puncture of the vein in the leg,” he said.

The WATCHMAN Device is also inserted with a single puncture.

“Which is used to treat patients who have atrial fibrillation and prevent strokes, particularly in those patients who cannot, or are intolerant or don’t wish to be on long-term blood thinners,” Dr. Patel said.

After Ray’s heart attack, he had a catheterization, eventually an ablation and went on nearly a dozen medications. The Brick Township resident says his weight and lifestyle still didn’t change much until, “I had four doctors in less then a month tell me I’ll never see 50.”

Convinced he had too much to lose, the family man changed his diet. He goes to the gym five days a week and lost 100 pounds. Now he only takes one medication and looks forward to watching his kids grow.