The power of listening to your body: How Darrell’s “off” feeling led to a lifesaving heart surgery

Heart Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Apr 10, 2024

In November 2023, Darrell Adams, 62, showed up for work at PlainsCapital Bank in Dallas at 6:30 AM as usual. Little did he know, this ordinary day would unfold into a life-changing event. 

Just after arriving, he started feeling an unusual pain and pressure below his sternum, as well as slight nausea. When a coworker arrived, Darrell explained his symptoms and together, they decided it was time to visit the Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital – Dallas emergency department. That decision ultimately saved Darrell’s life—and set him on the path of wellness.

An emergency trip that saved a life

Emergency personnel quickly assessed Darrell and while waiting to be seen, he called his wife.

“I’m at the Baylor emergency room,” he said, and then immediately passed out.

Medical professionals in the emergency department (ED) performed CPR, shocked Darrell's heart twice with a defibrillator and helped him to breathe by inserting an intubator down his throat. Darrell had experienced a sudden cardiac episode called ventricular fibrillation, which is when an irregular heart rhythm that stops blood flowing correctly to the heart. 

Darrell was quickly transported to the cardiac catheterization lab, where an angiography—a medical imaging technique used to visualize the blood vessels—showed that his left anterior descending artery was 99% blocked. He was treated by Subhash Banerjee, MD, FACC, FSCAI, an interventional cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital.

Dr. Banerjee's team swiftly performed two critical procedures to help Darrell's heart. First, they conducted a cardiac catheterization, inserting a tiny tube into a blood vessel near his heart to assess its function. Then, they performed a percutaneous coronary intervention, using specialized tools to open Darrell's blocked heart blood vessel and insert a stent. This small tube keeps the vessel open, ensuring smooth blood flow to his heart muscle, which is crucial for his recovery.

Darrell's next memory is waking up in the intensive care unit (ICU) later that afternoon—his wife by his side. He was still intubated, which meant he had to answer questions and communicate via hand signals.

As executive vice president and chief credit officer at PlainsCapital Bank, Darrell’s job comes with a lot of pressure. He admitted that as soon as he woke up from surgery, he was trying to tell people about the work appointments he needed to cancel.

Stress was determined as a contributing factor in his heart attack—one that he would need to learn to control to prevent another heart attack down the road.

“Stress is a strong driver of risk for a first heart attack,” Dr. Banerjee said. “And it can be an even higher risk for those who have already experienced one.”

On the road to recovery

Darrell ultimately spent three and a half days in the hospital and took close to 30 days off work. During that time, he participated in cardiac rehab at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Grapevine. As a regular exerciser most of his life, he quickly progressed from the rowing machine and treadmill to lifting weights.

“I think I'm passing with flying colors,” Darrell said.

Darrell’s recovery has been relatively smooth and fast, which Dr. Banerjee attributes to the short time between the cardiac arrest and the opening of the artery. Darrell’s total time from passing out in the ER to stent insertion was under 90 minutes. That allowed his heart to recover very quickly and preserved his overall heart function.

“In such an event, time is muscle,” Dr. Banerjee said. 

Although the quick care he received was essential to Darrell’s smooth recovery, equally important was his attention to his own body. Heart attacks can present with a myriad of symptoms. It’s not always the typical crushing chest pain or left arm pain that you may have heard described.

“Mr. Adams had uneasiness he couldn’t explain, he felt a little tired and anxious,” Dr. Banerjee said. “He had some neck and jaw pain. Women have an even higher propensity of presenting with atypical symptoms—and when these symptoms are abrupt in onset, then seeking medical care is very important.”

Working to improve his heart health

It’s key to address the fact that the stent was not a cure. It helps restore blood flow, but it’s not a cure for why the heart attack happened in the first place. Darrell is working on addressing the root causes of his heart attack, including lowering his blood pressure, eating healthy, exercising and reducing his stress.

Reducing his stress can be a bit tricky given Darrell’s demanding job. But now he weighs those crucial work decisions through a different lens.

“After you go through an event like this, you kind of realize some things aren't quite as important as you thought they were,” he said.

The other important thing Darrell is doing? Making the most of his second chance. 

“I try and realize how blessed I've been,” he said. “I get to spend more time with my family and grandkids, and I just appreciate that a little bit more.”

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