Walter “Ray” Webster is eager to fish again and ride his motorcycle.
Webster collapsed from a heart attack on the way to his car after finishing a 12-hour shift as a forklift driver. “I don’t even remember clocking out. I know I was talking to a couple of guys going out the door and I get out in the parking lot and that’s where I collapsed ” right in mid-speech ” I just went straight to the ground.”
Just 49 years old when his heart stopped this spring, Webster tells his story matter-of-factly and focuses on the positive: Co-workers immediately started CPR and an ambulance was there within minutes.
His friends called 911 as they rushed to help. “They started right away – one was pushing on the chest.”
Paramedics, training right around the corner, responded immediately.
“I was so lucky,” Webster said.
“The night before, it just felt kinda weird,” said Webster. He passed it off as heartburn and told his daughter, “I’m going to bed. My chest is hurting, I’m sure I’ll feel better in the morning.”
The next morning, he went to work. “I felt fine when I got up,” said Webster. He remembers finishing his shift and then waking up at St. Elizabeth Edgewood. From there, Webster was cared for by a team of doctors, consulting with each other on his condition, options, timing and care.
“Ideally, this is the way this should work,” said Cardiologist Dr. Kevin Miller. “He was seen by an emergency room physician literally as he was rolled in the door. He was seen by me within the first 30 minutes, then he has heart surgery a few days later.”
“Every day while he was in the hospital, he was being seen by myself and Dr. Ulicny. He’s one of our cardiac surgeons,” said Dr. Miller. Dr. Karl Ulicny is responsible for what goes on in the operating room and immediately after, explained Dr. Miller, whose job was to stabilize Ray with the right medications so he could recover sufficiently for the surgery.
St. Elizabeth provides “the full array of medical and surgical sub-specialists who are there on a day-in, day-out basis.”
“It’s rarely a one man show. It surely is a team approach,” said Dr. Miller.
Webster said they kept him informed, “They explained everything: what happened and what they were going to do.”
Road to Recovery
The procedure, coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), included six bypasses. It offers the best long-term solution in a case like this, said Dr. Ulicny. The Society of Thoracic Surgeons reports, “The long-term results of CABG are excellent,” relieving chest pain and restoring or improving energy levels.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Webster exercises under careful supervision at the St. Elizabeth Cardiac Rehab Center.
“I work out 45 minutes. Starting tomorrow, I can actually start to use my arms”I can’t wait,” Webster said. “It’s a really good group of people”They are really there to help you.
A CT scan performed while he was hospitalized found other problems: nodules on his saliva gland and his lung. And doctors are following up on problems that Webster said may have gone undetected if not for his heart attack.
His biggest advocate is his wife Angie, who takes him to every appointment and makes sure he’s following his doctors’ advice. “She’s a nurse and she knows more about what they are talking about,” said Webster.
“In a perfect world, Mr. Webster and I are going to be seeing each other probably once a year at a minimum for the next decade or two for what we call ‘secondary prevention,'”said Dr. Miller. The hope is to make this the one and only heart surgery for Ray.
When he first left the hospital, Webster told his wife he wasn’t sure he needed a lot of fuss.
“I explained to him that we have three daughters and three grandchildren that he has to keep going for. We need to get all this addressed,” said Angie, his wife of nearly 30 years.
“It’s important to get back out there ” important to get back out in your everyday life,” said Webster. He is looking forward to time with their grandchildren, ages eight months to six years, and more.
“I have a motorcycle that I like to ride,” he said. And he’s looking forward to fishing with his six-year-old grandson.