Healthy You - Every Day

Ody Draklellis and a Tale of Two Birthdays

Expert heart care at LVH–Cedar Crest gave the diner owner a second lease on life

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Ody Draklellis

Ody Draklellis can celebrate two birthdays.

The first for when he was born nearly 54 years ago. The second for Oct.18, 2020, when he was brought back to life by doctors and nurses at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Cedar Crest after a heart attack from a completely blocked artery sent him collapsing just prior to entering the emergency department.

His heartbeat had to be restored five times and after testing he quickly underwent a life-saving procedure to repair the blockage. He was then medically sedated for two days in the hospital’s cardiac intensive care unit undergoing targeted temperature management (formerly therapeutic hypothermia) to ensure brain function recovery. In targeted temperature management, core body temperature is cooled to the low 90s Fahrenheit.

Two weeks later, he walked out of the hospital.

Draklellis, who owns the East Penn Diner in Emmaus with his brother, decided to drive himself to the hospital at 2 a.m. where he then collapsed within 30 seconds of reaching the emergency department registration desk that night. He was immediately taken to the cardiac catheterization lab within 20 minutes of reaching the emergency department.

Today, he’s looking forward to many more birthday celebrations.

Problem signs

Draklellis says he’s an active non-smoker who almost never stands still, and someone who bikes, hikes and hunts. He takes medicine to control cholesterol, regularly sees his primary care doctor, and had no previous heart problems.

In the week before his heart attack, he was planting trees with his son and thought he pulled a muscle in his shoulder blade. “I didn’t think it was unusual. I figured I was sore from pushing myself,” he says.

The night of his heart attack, he started having pain in his forearms. His wife called their health insurance company’s nurse assistance line. His daughter searched heart attack symptoms on the internet. Both urged him multiple times that day to go to the hospital, but it was late and he didn’t think it was that serious. 

Draklellis finally texted his friend, hospital medicine physician Paul Layden, MD, with LVPG Hospital Medicine at Cedar Crest, who told him to get to the emergency department immediately.

“The reason I’m alive is because I just entered the hospital,” he says, adding CPR started immediately after he collapsed. 

Draklellis says the staff at LVH–Cedar Crest, including his doctor, interventional cardiologist Shailendra Singh, MD, with LVH Cardiology and Lehigh Valley Heart Institute, cared for him at the highest level with the utmost respect and attention. “The people were so amazing, it was unbelievable,” he says. Some of those who cared for Draklellis last fall still stop into his diner to say hello and check in on him. 

“I’m honored to be able to help people in one of the most vulnerable moments in their life. It’s the most rewarding experience for my team and I to save patients from a life-threatening heart event.”

Right place, right time, right partner

Singh says the chances of surviving cardiac arrest depend on major factors, including what caused the heart to stop, and the timing of high-quality CPR. 

Survival rates are typically lower than 10 percent for out-of-hospital events and lower than 20 percent for in-hospital cardiac arrest. Lehigh Valley Heart Institute ranks very high among the top hospitals in the country for treating a high number of acute heart attack patients every year.

“I’m honored to be able to help people in one of the most vulnerable moments in their life. It’s the most rewarding experience for my team and I to save patients from a life-threatening heart event,” Singh says. “While I do this often, the intense experience of saving each patient’s life is extremely memorable and gratifying.”

Draklellis calls Singh “an exceptionally talented interventional cardiologist with incredible bedside manner” and is truly grateful for his new lease on life. “I’m so thankful to the big guy upstairs and all the doctors and staff at Lehigh Valley. They went above and beyond.” 

Risk factors and advice

Draklellis modified his diet after leaving the hospital – less meat and cheese and more poultry, vegetables and fruit. His total cholesterol level dropped by more than half.

Singh says it’s important to understand that while you can’t control all cardiovascular risk problems – like aging, gender and genetics – there are factors you can control to help prevent heart attack, stroke and vascular disease. Starting the process of risk factor control early is crucial.

Chest pain can be caused by a variety of things, Singh says, from heartburn or emotional stress, to serious medical emergencies, such as a heart attack or blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism). 

“It can be difficult to tell if your chest pain is due to a heart attack or other health condition, especially if you've never had chest pain before,” he says. “Seek emergency medical help if you have unexplained chest pain that lasts more than a few minutes. The sooner you are checked out, the sooner you can get the kind of artery-opening therapy that can protect your heart from permanent damage.”

That fast, successful care means more birthdays ahead for Ody Draklellis and others with life-threatening heart issues. "Listen to your body and get checked out,” says Draklellis. 

Stay heart healthy. Learn more about the Lehigh Valley Heart Institute.

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