Danny Balon plucked and munched the first cucumber of last summer from his girlfriend’s garden, just outside Hazleton. He instantly felt something like indigestion in the center of his chest. Back at the house, he took an antacid hoping to stop the heartburn. But squeezing, heavy pain began – so intense he fell to his knees, gasping for breath.
“I knew something was very wrong,” says the 54-year-old computer programmer and avid musician from Freeland, Pa. Suspecting heart trouble, which runs in his family, Balon swallowed two aspirins and had his girlfriend, Lori Stish, rush him to the emergency room at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Hazleton.
A “widow maker” in the making
An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) showed he was having a severe heart attack, known as the “widow maker.” He recalls someone saying the EKG was “catastrophically abnormal.” Balon’s main heart artery was totally blocked, and he needed immediate care to survive.
Balon’s main heart artery was totally blocked, and he needed immediate care to survive.
His mother had suffered a heart attack at age 57 and underwent heart bypass surgery to save her heart. Balon wondered if that was next.
Step 1: Open the artery
He was stabilized and airlifted via LVHN’s MedEvac helicopter to LVH–Cedar Crest, for lifesaving treatment. Interventional cardiologist Nainesh Patel, MD, with LVPG Cardiology and Lehigh Valley Heart Institute, opened the blocked artery using a tiny balloon threaded through a blood vessel in Balon’s groin – a coronary angioplasty procedure. Patel also placed two stents in the vessel to prop it open, giving Balon fast relief.
Step 2: Treat oxygen-starved heart muscle
While angioplasty and stenting are separate procedures used to reopen the artery, oxygen-starved ischemic tissue persists. As part of a research study of which Patel is LVHN’s chief investigator, a special catheter was inserted into Balon’s artery using the same pathway that opened the artery. For the study, saline is mixed with oxygen in a device outside the body, then the oxygen-concentrated mixture (known as SSO2) is introduced to the patient’s circulatory system. For an hour, the superoxygenated blood and saline mixture bathe the injured heart muscle. This oxygen concentration is seven times greater than the normal oxygen concentration in blood. That oxygen infusion is believed to help limit the size of the infarction area (dead tissue) and promoted the healing of Balon’s heart muscle.
According to Patel, this therapy offers a significant shift in the treatment of heart attack patients. “Since the advent of angioplasty and stenting to treat heart attack, we haven’t seen any new treatment options to reduce infarct size in this vulnerable population and SSO2 therapy appears to fulfill this unmet need,” he says. Study results will be published this fall.
Balon was out of the hospital in four days. He then completed a cardiac rehab course at the Health & Wellness Center at Hazleton. Today he walks three miles a day and follows up with cardiologist Yaqoob Mohyuddin, MD, with LVPG Cardiology.
He soon was blowing his trombone again, belting out Dixieland numbers in the Tin Roof Brass Band with his brother and some friends. A singer-songwriter who records his own tunes, Balon has some unique inspiration for new songs: surviving his close brush with death and singing the praises of the medical professionals who saved his life.
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