‘I want to live’
How life-saving care and a stunning transformation gave man a changed heart.
Kyle Chambers Published: September 14, 2020
After years of enjoying fried foods, processed meats and soda, Wayne Lawson, 66, found that his eating habits were beginning to catch up with him. His exercise habits were hit or miss, and he soon found his heart health was declining.
Lawson said he grew up frying most of his foods, even ice cream. Over the years, he developed a knack for enjoying foods that tasted good, but weren’t necessarily good for his body.
“I was like everyone else in my situation; I always found time to go to the steakhouse to eat, but never to the gym,” Lawson said. Lawson noticed he was feeling fatigued and out of breath even when just walking up stairs. Constant chest pain led the Kingsland, Georgia, native to reach out to his primary care physician.
His doctor gave him scary news: he would likely not make it another week without suffering a heart attack.
“I knew that if something was not done soon, I was going to die,” Lawson said.
Against the clock
In April, Lawson was referred to Baptist Heart Specialists at Baptist Medical Center Nassau for treatment.
Meeting virtually due to COVID-19 precautions, George Le-Bert, DO, a cardiologist with Baptist Heart Specialists at Baptist Nassau, could see that Lawson’s situation was a potential emergency.
Lawson was diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD), a buildup of plaque narrowed blood flow in his right coronary artery, which helps to supply blood to his heart. Testing revealed he had suffered a 99% blockage and required immediate intervention.
“I was not ready to make my wife a widow,” Lawson said. “My future looked bleak and I needed help.”
Racing against the clock, Dr. Le-Bert scheduled Lawson’s procedure with Salvatore DiLoreto, MD, an interventional cardiologist with Baptist Heart Specialists. Just three days after Lawson’s initial visit with Baptist Nassau, he was in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at Baptist Heart Hospital, where Dr. DiLoreto would implant two spring-like metal tubes called stents to force open his right coronary artery.
Dr. DiLoreto decided to perform a minimally invasive procedure to quickly get access to Lawson’s blocked artery. By threading catheters up into the heart, Dr. DiLoreto was able to enter Lawson’s bloodstream and get blood flowing through Lawson’s heart once again.
Speaking from the heart
Lawson’s operation went off without a hitch. Just one week after the procedure, Lawson said he felt the best he had in 30 years.
“My doctors stopped me dying of a heart attack,” he said. “I was blessed to have two exceptionally fine cardiologists take me on as a patient.”
To help his heart health following the extensive procedure, Dr. Le-Bert entered Lawson into a 9-week program at Synergy Lifestyle Center that focused on exercise, nutrition and lifestyle changes for cardiac patients. Lawson needed to make permanent changes to his exercise regimen and eating habits to see lasting improvements.
“It’s a misconception that interventions like stents are the main reason people live longer following heart procedures,” Dr. Le-Bert said. “Lifestyle interventions and change are the reason. We hope that success with this new lifestyle, along with medical management, will help Mr. Lawson reverse the effects of his CAD.”
On the leafy side of things
With help from his wife and staff at his rehabilitation facility, Lawson has risen to the challenge. While he still has food cravings, his meals of choice now are more on the leafy side. He has switched to a plant-based diet, given up meat and limits his fat consumption. He now also makes sure to exercise at least once a day.
“Because I’m having the underlying issue treated instead of my symptoms, I am now able to do things I haven’t been able to do in years,” he said.
Lawson said his success with his new lifestyle is the reason he has been able to stop taking four of his 11 heart medications, and he expects this good news to continue. He aims to maintain his healthy habits and make the most out of his “second chance at life.”
“If you want something bad enough, you’ll figure out a way to make it happen,” Lawson said. “And I want to live.”
Baptist Heart Specialists provides life-changing care for patients with heart disease. To schedule an appointment with a heart specialist near you visit baptistjax.com/heart.