THE DAY CHARLIE PLATT ALMOST SIGNED OFF FOR GOOD.
Little did he know, without immediate medical attention, he was running out of time.
Charlie Platt arrived in the Critical Care Unit (CCU) at Southeast Alabama Medical Center in such distress that the nurses and physicians immediately began interventions to save his life by preventing more damage to his heart.
Earlier, this was a typical workday for Platt who was doing what he has done almost every weekday morning from 5:30 to 7 for the past 20 years, hosting his popular talk show, Top of the Morning, on WDHN television.
However, on this day at the office, signing off at the end of the TV show as the cameras faded to black, he felt something wasn't quite right. Platt was experiencing pain in his shoulder, but he made himself believe it was a flare-up of inflammation from scar tissue. He had no idea when he left the studio that morning that he wouldn't be back on the air for two months.
After leaving the station, Platt went to get a haircut and the pain began to intensify.
"It was hurting, and I began sweating," Platt said.
Later, while doing a telephone interview with a newspaper reporter, Platt couldn't bear the pain any longer. "I knew it wasn't the shoulder. I didn't know what it was, but I knew it wasn't good," he said.
He had planned to go home, eat breakfast, take pain medication for his shoulder and catch a nap. He still shudders to think what would have happened if he had not altered his plans that day. Platt was running out of time, if he didn't seek medical attention.
He phoned his son and asked to be taken to the Emergency Department at SAMC as soon as possible. While he didn't want to say it out loud, in the back of his mind Platt feared it could be his heart.
Emergency Department physicians and nurses immediately began working on Platt to diagnose the problem. Despite not having a family history of heart disease, Platt was a long time cigarette smoker. As his results from the lab work were read, physicians knew there was a serious heart problem.
Cardiologist Darius Aliabadi, MD, of Heart South in Dothan, began preparations for performing a heart catheterization. SAMC offers the region's most comprehensive Heart and Vascular services and in a newly constructed facility.
Platt would be in good hands with Dr. Aliabadi and the highly trained clinical staff in SAMC's Catheterization Lab. The advanced 3-D technology gave Dr. Aliabadi and the clinical team clear images to define the size and length of Platt's blockages. The procedure revealed the damaged arteries were too extensive to place a stent to open blood flow.
The amount of heart disease and blockage Charlie had was out of proportion for his symptoms," Dr. Aliabadi said. "Generally, a person like Charlie with major, three-vessel damage normally would have complained about more symptoms typical of this advanced heart disease."
Instead of a cardiac cath procedure Platt needed open heart surgery. Medically unstable and in critical condition, he was moved to a room in the CCU for intensive medical management in anticipation of the heart surgery. It was at that moment he grasped the facts surrounding his grave situation. "I could hear my family whispering as they tried to talk quietly, and I could see the concern on their faces as they talked to me," Platt said.
Edward Planz Jr., MD, cardiovascular/thoracic surgeon with Southeast Cardiovascular Associates in Dothan, would perform the surgery to clear the blockage, repair the damage and open up blood flow to the heart. Dr. Planz and the area's most experienced cardiovascular surgery team began the bypass surgery and determined that Platt had only four usable pieces of arteries available for his heart bypasses. Dr. Planz told Platt the surgery was the toughest challenge he has had in almost 30 years of practicing as a surgeon.
Dr. Planz later told Platt he has a higher purpose. "The Great Physician up above wants you on this earth for something special," Planz said.
After surgery, Platt stayed on a ventilator for five days in CCU while his heart and his body began the healing process. Typically, a patient is off the ventilator the day after a bypass surgery. It was touch and go for Platt as he was literally in a fight for his life. The third day after surgery, the efforts of Dr. Planz and the CCU nurses were paying off as Platt turned the corner.
"I never realized how many people knew and cared about me," he said as his voice cracked with emotion. "With so many people praying for me, I think God got tired of hearing my name."
Since his surgery, Platt continues to regain his strength. He returned to his TV show in July and completed his Cardiac Rehab program at SAMC. The Rehab program is a medically supervised exercise and education program certified by the American Associaton of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. After the initial program, Platt chose to continue with a maintenance program at the Cardiac Rehab gym.
"I only live a short distance from the Medical Center, and I have talked on my show for years about what a great medical community we have in Dothan," Platt said. "Now I know firsthand we have world class medical care at the Medical Center. I don't want anyone to have to go through what I did, but if they do, they don't have to leave Dothan to get the medical care they need."
For more information about SAMC's comprehensive Heart and Vascular Center, please call 334.793.8143 or visit samc.org.
WARNING SIGNS OF HEART DISEASE
Darius Aliabadi, MD, stressed that according to the American Heart Association, everyone is different and warning signs for heart disease do not necessarily include severe pain.
Common symptoms for heart disease, including a heart attack can include:
• Discomfort from the ears to the chest, especially after exertion
• Shortness of breath
• A cold sweat
If these symptoms are persistent, see your primary care physician or go to the Emergency Department.
Dr. Aliabadi said while a stress test can determine severe blockage, the only way to know for sure is to have a heart catheterization. "A stress test is just a screening test; the catheterization is the 'gold standard' when it comes to determining heart disease and blockage."