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Oak Bay man raising awareness after second heart attack in a month

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An Oak Bay man is raising awareness about the warning signs of a heart attack after suffering two of them a month apart. The 54-year-old didn’t have all the textbook warning signs, which cardiologists say isn’t uncommon.

“I’m very lucky I got away with dismissing the first one,” says Greg Clarke.

The Royal Canadian Air Force major in charge of Victoria’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre says he didn’t seek medical attention the first time. It was mid-September. He was travelling for work and woke up feeling pressure and pain in his chest. It went away within 15 minutes so he dismissed it and didn’t tell anyone.

Then Clarke says the feeling came back on Oct. 24 while he was asleep. He waited, looking for some other common signs of a heart attack, such as pain spreading to other areas. But his only initial clue causing him to drive to the hospital was a pain in the middle of his chest.

“I went to the front of the line,” he says upon arrival at Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital. “They took it very seriously, very quickly.”

Clarke says he was in denial.

“Many people don’t present as the textbooks say they should present,” says Clarke’s interventional cardiologist Dr. Anthony Della Siega.

“Most people read about [the pain] going to the arm or to the back or being short of breath or being sweaty. But not everyone has all of that. Maybe 20 to 30 per cent will have everything.”

The doctor says chest pain is the universal feature of a heart attack, and reminds it’s different from cardiac arrest.

“People think a heart attack is when someone drops to the ground and that’s more of a cardiac arrest. A cardiac arrest where your heart stops or more accurately goes way too fast to pump blood adequately, that is a sort of end result of somebody having a heart attack. The heart attack from my perspective and a physicians perspective is when one of the arteries on the surface of the heart, one of the coronary arteries blocks off.”

Clarke says his chest pain was transcending and there was nothing he could do to clear it, such as stretching or lying down.

“It was deeper and that’s why it was scary,” he says.

Dr. Della Siega used a C-Arm to get an x-ray of Greg’s heart to spot the blockage and treat it.

“We get into the coronary arteries. These are the fuel lines for the heart muscle. These are the ones that become blocked and we put a little tiny 14-thousandths (of an) inch wire down across that blockage. Then we use a balloon to open up the artery and we put a stent in – a metal tube-like scaffold that holds the artery open.”

The Royal Jubilee Hospital is in need of a new C-Arm machine. The Victoria Hospitals Foundation says it costs about $2 million and is part of its campaign Imaging is Power.

“Supporting our hospitals is such a great way to give back to the entire community and the entire island because Royal Jubilee Hospital and Victoria General Hospital are referral sites for all of Vancouver Island,” says VHF’s associate director of philanthropy, Colleen Bronson.

Clarke says he’s grateful for the care he’s received, which has given him a new lease on life.

“I don’t want anyone to dismiss something that’s happening and not have a good outcome like I did,” he says.

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