Scott Marks was feeling just a little bit of pressure in his chest. It was November 2017 and the 60-year-old recent retiree didn’t worry too much: he’d never smoked, never had high blood pressure, wasn’t overweight, and had worked demanding, physical jobs for most of his life. Knowing he had a doctor’s appointment already scheduled for January, Marks moved that little bit of worry to the back of his mind and waited. Turns out, waiting could have killed him.
A January exercise stress test revealed that his heart was not functioning properly, which prompted further investigation. As Scott underwent a cardiac catheterization (during which the patient is sedated but conscious), Dr. William Colyer, Cardiologist, turned the monitor toward Marks and showed him three arteries that were over 80% blocked. None were in branches that could be stented. Marks paraphrased his surgeon’s words:
Unfortunately, I believe you need urgent surgery to repair this. You should get your affairs in order; talk to your family. This is extremely important. You. Could. Die.
The man who could count the number of missed workdays on one hand from 43-years working, had a triple bypass soon afterward. “It was a punch in the gut,” Marks said.
Only St. Luke’s for Marks
Marks never considered treatment anywhere but at St. Luke’s Heart and Vascular Center. “I believe St. Luke’s is a much more family-oriented hospital and cares more for the community, their patients and their employees than big conglomerate mega-hospitals and mega-companies,” he said.
“I had excellent care,” Marks continued. “The doctors were tremendous. The people in the cardiac unit encouraged me. When people are positive, you are too. How do you thank somebody for saving your life? No words seem adequate.”
After surgery, Marks also took advantage of the St. Luke’s-based Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, a specially-designed exercise and education program created to improve fitness and reduce the risk factors of heart disease. It is tailored to each patient’s personal needs.
“I was skeptical about what to expect from rehab, but they start you out relatively slowly. Their whole intent is to build you up and get you stronger while you’re there. It builds you mentally as well as physically,” he said.
Determined to be at his youngest daughter’s summer wedding, Marks pushed himself, with the approval of his team of caregivers, to add even more to his three-day-a-week cardiac rehab schedule by performing similar exercises at home.
“When I was lying in that bed in February, I knew that in six months, I wanted to walk my daughter down the aisle. I thought, ‘I’m not going to be some feeble guy. I’m going to be strong, even though I’ve got scars.’ I’ve got a lot to live for. And I’m not ready for it be to over yet. Not by a long-shot.”
Scott Marks on Heart Disease
- Things that seem good for you can be bad for you. Before his stress test, Marks was walking three miles a day, despite the pressure in his chest. His physician told him that exercise during extremely cold weather could easily have constricted his arteries and caused a heart attack or stroke. Today, he avoids exercising outdoors in extremely hot or cold weather.
- Cholesterol in your arteries can come from a variety of things. With no heart disease in his long-lived family, Marks wasn’t worried about cholesterol. “The one risk factor that I didn’t realize was that stress builds cholesterol in your arteries,” Marks said. “You can be a marathon runner, a vegan, the most health-conscious person there is, and you can still build cholesterol in your arteries.” To that end, Marks has made many changes in his life to help reduce stress, including his “Type A” tendencies.
- If you’re worried about your health, speak up. “I thought I felt good, but I knew deep down that something wasn’t right with me,” Marks said. “When I had that appointment with my doctor and told him about the pressure in my chest, it started all this in motion. I didn’t keep it inside. I helped save my life by speaking up.”