President Eager to Return to JSU
By Al Harris
JSU News Bureau
March 17, 2003 -- Jacksonville State University President Bill Meehan's own fast action most likely saved his life last week when he sought medical help after experiencing a tight chest and pain in his left arm.
Dr. Meehan said during a phone interview from Montclair Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham Monday morning that he underwent heart catheterization last week that showed 95 percent blockage in his left anterior descending coronary artery.
That's the location and condition that doctors call "the widow maker."
"The doctor said that the instrument they put through the hole was the width of a human hair, and that width occluded that hole. So, what he was telling me was that I was moments or hours away from a heart attack. Had I not done something about it I would have had a heart attack," Meehan said.
Following angioplasty and insertion of a stint, Meehan said, there was "no heart muscle damage -- the prognosis is very good."
Two other blockages are being treated with medication.
The president's recovery was hampered by pneumonia, but he says he is feeling better and eager to get back to work.
The ordeal began last week when the president noticed discomfort in his chest.
Dr. Meehan continues the story in his own words:
President: I was walking across campus -- I think it was after Casino Night last week. I just had a tightness in my chest and pain in my left arm. I didn't think a whole lot about it because I was tired -- we'd been there a long time at Casino Night. And then this last weekend on the (Ladiga) trail, that was Sunday March 9th, a similar thing happened when I was biking with the family, and so it was really a sharper pain. Although it didn't take my breath away, it was enough to really concern me.
Question: This was chest pain?
President: This was chest pain and down the left arm. So, I told (my wife) Beth about it, and I went to the emergency room at Jacksonville Hospital. I did call Dr. Yates, in Jacksonville, and he asked me to go to the emergency room and just be admitted through there and to submit to some tests. While I was in the emergency room the chest pain happened again, and they went ahead and put me in ICU for observation. They were going to do some additional stress tests -- what's called a nuclear stress test -- the following day. I've had a cold, and I thought this might be some of the symptoms of a cold. The pains recurred while I was just walking down the hall with the heart monitor, so they decided what they would have to do is ship me over to Birmingham, to Montclair, to see a cardiologist.
Question: Did you go by ambulance? Did your family drive you?
President: I went by ambulance. Once you're in cardiac care they won't let you (go on your own) -- you're given over to their care. Jacksonville did a wonderful job; Dr. Yates did a wonderful job. In fact, the folks here at Montclair, the cardiologist whose name is Dr. Brock said several times that Jacksonville did everything that they would have done here in Birmingham. There is no treatment that they didn't do in diagnosing this that they would not have done here. But what Jacksonville Hospital could not do is a heart catheterization and the angioplasty if they found something. They felt that with that much chest pain, especially with that (pain) going down the left arm, there must be something there. And so they wanted to see if there was a blockage.
Question: What day did you arrive at Montclair?
President: Wednesday the 12th--got here late that afternoon. Then Thursday morning I had the angioplasty, heart catheterization. And that showed that in the left anterior descending coronary artery that there was a 95% blockage.
Question: That's the "widow maker?"
President: That's exactly right, the "widow maker." And the doctor said that the instrument that they put through that hole was the width of a human hair and that width occluded that hole. So what he was telling me was that I was moments, or hours, away from a heart attack and had I not done something about it I would have had a heart attack--but there was no heart muscle damage and that the prognosis is very good. They did the angioplasty and put a stint in.
Question: An angioplasty means that they went in with a balloon and expanded the wall? And a stint is the stainless steel mesh?
President: Mesh that keeps it open--exactly. Because of being here I am a candidate for a long-term study that they're going to do. And it was a Jacksonville student, a nursing graduate, Elizabeth Shield, who's going to be involved with that. I'll be going through a long term, 18-month study for a new drug that is being proposed to the FDA. Everything came out well and there was a good prognosis. I would have come on home but the cold, in the meantime, has turned into a diagnosis of pneumonia in both lungs--so, what better place to be than in the hospital to find out you've got pneumonia.
Question: The pneumonia is something that probably would have happened regardless of whether you had the heart problem?
Question: So, now you're taking antibiotics?
President: That's exactly right. So, as soon as I've had that and another series of chest x-rays this morning, and once that's stabilized and we get the fever taken care of, I hope they'll let me go home. In fact, some of these folks are tired of looking at me.
Question: How are you feeling as we speak?
President: I feel good. It's just the coughing and the fever but otherwise I feel great. They are taking wonderful care of me here at Montclair.
Question: Beth has been there with you? Probably your children haven't been able to see you?
President: The kids have been here. The doctors didn't want me to have a lot of visitors -- just immediate family. And that was true in Jacksonville and also here. Linda Love (secretary) has kept a log of everyone who has called. That way, I will know everyone who has called. I appreciate everybody calling.
Question: Anything that you would like to say specifically to the JSU family?
President: I appreciate all their prayers and their love and everything--knowing that they're there. The University is in good hands. I am not worried at all about the institution. And I appreciate all the fantastic JSU graduates that I have met in Jacksonville, at the medical center in Jacksonville, and also here at Montclair--makes me appreciate what we do in educating our students here. In fact, I've even met one young man here who was an international student -- he's working down in radiology.
Question: Any advice for those who think they have heart problems?
President: I recommend that people get their checkup regularly and then anytime they have any chest pains to get to the emergency room. Go right away. Because what you may think is a reaction to a bad cold -- which is what I thought this was -- can actually be something that may be a serious problem.
Question: Anything else for the folks back home?
President: Yes, we had 414 in attendance at Preview Day this past weekend -- one of our best turn-outs. I want to thank everyone for their help and for doing such a great job!
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