Information and opinions presented here do not always represent the views of the American Heart Association.

STORIES FROM THE HEART: Heartburn? Hardly. Under an hour later, his life-threatening problem was resolved

Published: 9:00 am CDT, July 31, 2014

John Perotti was mowing the lawn outside his Utah home office when he felt what he thought was “heartburn from hell.” He headed indoors for some homemade chicken noodle soup hoping that would soothe him.

“The minute I got the spoon to my lips, I spit it out,” he said. “Then, here comes the nausea. By then I was clammy. Within a minute or so, I was laying on my side pounding the floor, saying, ‘God, help me.’”

His wife called 9-1-1. When paramedics arrived, they knew they didn’t have time to stabilize John. They immediately put him on a sheet and carried him into the ambulance. No one said the words “heart attack,” but John had pretty much figured it out.

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At the hospital, doctors sprang into action.

“I remember being on a gurney that was setting land-speed records going down the hallway,” John said. “I told whoever was wheeling me, `I’ve got a wife, three kids and five grandchildren. Don’t let me die.’”

He also remembers the incredible pain – despite being medicated – when doctors repeatedly shocked his heart in an effort to save his life. He received 10 jolts and was alert for three of them.

Those numbers are topped by this: “I was told I flat-lined five times.”

John had a blocked left anterior descending artery, what some call the “widow maker” because the survival rate is so low. The blockage was surgically removed, and he received a mesh-like tube called a stent to prop open the damaged artery.

And the whole episode – from the time the ambulance arrived at John’s house to the time he was being wheeled into recovery in the cardiac intensive care unit – took only 57 minutes.

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The heart attack was a shocking wake-up call for John, then a 59-year-old mental health therapist in private practice in Lindon, Utah.

His family had no history of heart disease. In fact, his dad lived until he was 94 and his mother until she was 89. A few weeks prior to the near-death event, John’s doctor told him he only had borderline-high levels of blood pressure and cholesterol, and his heart sounded fine through a stethoscope.

“It just came out of the blue for us and was completely lifestyle-generated,” said John, whose poor eating habits contributed to his heart attack. “I now treat food as if it were a prescription.”

John carefully studies nutrition labels on food, examining the amounts of trans fats, sodium and sugar. He also notes portion sizes.

“If the doctor told you to take 25 milligrams of a prescription every two hours, do you just not take any and take 100 milligrams several hours later? You’d never do that. But we do that with food,” he said.

Since his heart attack, John has lost 55 pounds, and he credits his hospital and the American Heart Association with providing the healthy-diet guidelines he uses to stay on track.

He knows the food choices that led to his heart problem were his own. Yet he also knows decisions like picking up dinner on the way home is common for many people.

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Doctors said John’s heart shows no evidence of permanent damage. He’s added a medicine to lower his cholesterol to the blood-pressure medicine he had been taking and he is working to improve his good cholesterol levels through exercise.

John knows the American Heart Association — the nation’s oldest, largest voluntary organization devoted to fighting cardiovascular diseases and stroke – is in his corner. The AHA funds more cardiovascular research than any organization outside the federal government, having invested in excess of $3.5 billion. The organization has funded research by 13 Nobel Prize winners and has been part of many lifesaving advancements such as the first artificial heart valve, cholesterol-inhibiting drugs, heart transplantation, and CPR techniques and guidelines.

John looks forward to using his story to help spread awareness of the American Heart Association’s life-saving mission. He wants to do whatever he can to help spare others what he and his wife went through.

Considering how close he came to not being able to share his story, he believes every day is a gift.

“I do feel like every moment I’m playing the bonus round.”

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Photo courtesy of John Perotti

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Do you know a “Story from the Heart” we should tell?

Send an email to stories@heart.org that’s as brief or as detailed as you’d like.

Previous “Stories from the Heart” include:

26-year-old rebuilds life, golf game after stroke

His two open-heart surgeries by 6 prompted family’s support of research

After years of denial, heart attack prompts TV news anchor to face the facts – and share them with his community

  • Nathan P. Thomas,Sr.

    I agree,any chest discomfort or epigastric pain seek medical attention ASAP, thanks for the information. AHA.