A widowmaker heart attack happens when you have a blockage in the biggest artery in your heart. That means blood can’t move through your left anterior descending (LAD) artery, which provides 50 percent of your heart muscle’s blood supply. Immediate treatment is crucial for a chance at survival.
—The Cleveland Clinic
Kevin Kapela of New Hyde Park has a favorite saying regarding our final passage.
“When they call your number, you go,” daughter Nicole, of Garden City, quoted her father. “So when I got up to the [hospital] room that night he said, ‘My number wasn’t called.’ ”
“Have you ever heard that word before, widowmaker?” she was asked.
“I did, but I didn’t hear good things,” she replied. “I never heard of a happy story on the other side.”
Thanks to some luck and skilled intervention at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, Kapela, 64, had a happy ending.
March 21 was the day his number could have been called. What medical professionals call a “myocardial infarction” was far from his mind as he stood at the ninth tee at the Christopher Morley Park golf course in Roslyn. It was his first outing of the year and he wasn’t keeping score, just getting his golf game tuned up.
“I took it nice and easy the first eight holes,” he related, adding that, as usual, he walked the course. “I’m loosened up and I usually like to get my drive over the trees [on the ninth]. I said, ‘I’m going to swing for the stars.’ As soon as I took the swing I felt like lightning bolts coming down my arm.”
His first thoughts were that he had pulled some muscles, but quickly realized that he was having a heart attack.
Kapela made the crucial decision to drive himself to nearby North Shore University Hospital. The first of what he called “the stars being aligned” in his favor came into play when he caught all green lights out of the park south on Searingtown Road to the LIE Service Road and past Shelter Rock Road to Community Drive, where the hospital was located,
En route, he called his wife Gina and told her, “Just come to the hospital. I think I’m having a heart attack.”
About five minutes after leaving the park—and keeping to the speed limit, he emphasized—he pulled into an ambulance bay at the ER entrance and an attendant came out to aid him.
Kapela said he was bent over in excruciating pain as he was helped out of his car.
“All I remember is the kid’s sneakers, he’s got beautiful sneakers,” he said, being unable to look up at the attendant.
The stricken man handed his license to an ER nurse and noted that he was already in the hospital’s records system, saving precious time. Within 20 minutes, he was in the cardiac catheterization lab for the life-saving stent procedure.
At an April 20 press conference, flanked by his wife and interventionist cardiologist Dr. Gaurav Rao, Kapela described his discomfort, imitating his moaning as he crossed his arms over his chest. On the proverbial pain scale of 1 to 10 he called it a “12.”
“The EKG was the first thing they did and they knew what I had immediately,” he said, hearing the scary word “widowmaker” being called out.
As he drifted in and out of what he called “a twilight zone” of consciousness, he also heard the medical personnel ask, “How did this guy not have a stroke yet? How did this guy not have a blood clot?” Kapela described the immediate pain relief he felt when the stent cleared the blockage.
Afterward, Dr. Rao asked permission to perform a fairly new procedure, recently approved by the FDA—TherOx treatment. According to a press release, it “provided his own super oxygenated blood to the site of the heart attack, helping prevent irreversible damage to the heart muscle and decreasing risk of long-term heart failure. Doctors liken the one-hour therapy as a hug for the heart because it brings oxygen-rich blood to millions of micro vessels in the organ and breaks up artery-clogging plaque in that area.”
North Shore is the only hospital in the state and one of the few in the Northeast to offer this therapy.
Kapela said he was “high-fiving” the medical personnel after the procedure, and when Nicole entered the room she was shocked for the second time that day—the first was when her mom informed her of the emergency.
“He looked amazing,” she related. “He was sitting up. His color was back in his face. He didn’t look like someone who had a massive heart attack.”
Nicole said Kevin was a very active grandfather with her four kids and said he stayed on top of his medical care.
“Ever think this would happen to you?” Kevin was asked.
“Never, not me,” he replied. “I didn’t have any symptoms. I felt great. I was walking with no sweat, no shortness of breath. I slept good. I don’t smoke, and I’m not a heavy drinker.”
Kapela is a semi-retired clothing manufacturer with a factory in Los Angeles. He said he did well on a stress test when he was 50 and walked up to two miles per day and also played pickleball.
Wife Gina also detailed that scary day, praising the nurses for comforting her with the assurance that her husband was in good hands.
In an interview with Anton Media Group, Dr. Rao said of the new therapy, “[it helps] those cells on a cellular level stay alive. So what does that mean long term? It means that patients are going to have less scar, [which] means less hospitalizations for heart failure and less death. And when your heart is stronger, you’re able to do more things that you want to do and the quality of life stays high. You’ll be able to spend time with family and do all those things that you were able to do before because your heart function has improved.”
He added, “And that’s exactly what happened in Kevin’s case by the end of his hospitalization. His heart function had improved, [going from] 25 percent to 50 percent. Normal is about 55 to 60 percent.”
Gina, reflecting on her husband’s close shave, said, “We’re going to do everything now, enjoy the grandchildren [more]. He got a new lease on life, really.”