AUSTIN (Nexstar) — After a week of busy travel in August, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick didn’t feel well.
What followed turned into a plan aiming to improve the heart health of Texans across the state.
“I was in New York, just done an appearance on Fox News,” Patrick recalled. “[I was] heading to the airport to go to El Paso for the memorial service [for the victims of the deadly shooting almost two weeks prior], and I was not feeling very well when I got on the plane. [It was] almost to the point where I thought maybe I shouldn’t get on the plane. But I didn’t want to go to the hospital in New York, I needed to get to El Paso.”
“I didn’t have heart pain but I had some discomfort — I was very fatigued, and I got through the next two days and I got home two days later,” he said.
Sitting at home and about to take his dog out for a walk, he felt pain in his jaw, neck, and his shoulders through his arms.
“If you read about having a heart attack, those are the vital signs,” he said.
A trip to the emergency room revealed a normal electrocardiogram (EKG) and normal blood tests.
The surgeon on call suggested he stay overnight for additional testing.
An angiogram uncovered a heart blockage.
“I didn’t know I was walking around with a ticking time bomb,” he said.
“I had a 90% block in my widow-maker artery, which is your left artery, which applies 50 to 60% of the blood to your heart,” he explained. “So I didn’t have a heart attack but I was right there in getting those symptoms.”
Emergency surgery to put in a stent and Patrick has recovered, leaving him “better than ever.”
Patrick, one of the most powerful people in the state as the presiding officer of the Texas Senate, has encouraged other members of his staff to get checked themselves. One staffer discovered an irregular heartbeat and recently had an implantable loop recorder into her chest to monitor her heartbeat and send regular reports to her cardiologist.
Patrick now calls himself a heart health evangelist.
He has charged the upper chamber’s Health and Human Services Committee with gathering information and analyzing costs associated with heart disease and stroke in Texas.
“Sometimes it’s legislation and sometimes it’s just funding,” Patrick explained.
He also wants the bipartisan panel to study ways for state health programs to collaborate on heart health, specifically for women.
“This is the most common cause of death and illness in the United States, and in general with the disease, it’s more common when you get older,” said Dr. Angel Caldera, an interventional cardiologist at Baylor Scott and White’s Round Rock hospital.
Caldera said the southern states, including Texas, lead the country in heart problems.
“When we compare the incidents of coronary artery disease and death related to heart attacks in Texas, it’s high compared with the rest of the nation,” he said.
In this case, the coronary angiogram the Lieutenant Governor had done is considered the gold standard for the diagnosing of coronary artery disease, he explained.
Caldera said education is the most valuable tool to further fight heart problems so patients learn “about the risk factors, how to control them and how to manage them.”
“I want us to be heart healthy but I just want people to be aware,” Patrick said.
“I feel like it is a new lease on life, God has giving me extra years and days with my grandkids, and I’m going to make them count,” he said.
Watch Patrick’s full interview with reporter Wes Rapaport on State of Texas, airing Sunday mornings on this local Nexstar station.