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American Heart Association News
After a busy day at his law office, Stuart Katz sat down for dinner with his wife at their home in Woodbridge, Connecticut.
He ate salad and a turkey burger. Well, two to be exact. Later, while watching TV, he began to question that second helping when he felt what he thought was indigestion.
Then he realized it was something else.
He told his wife his chest didn’t feel right. Maybe it was a panic attack. Then he noticed a tingling in his arms and neck. He was sweating.
The intense pressure didn’t relent.
Marni Smith Katz suggested he meditate, something she practiced. Katz didn’t try; he couldn’t even sit still. She quickly called 911.
Eight “very long” minutes later, the paramedics arrived. EMTs struggled to get a heart monitor to work, but they told the then-52-year-old that he didn’t appear to be having a heart attack. Still, they took him to the hospital. The ambulance didn’t speed or run its lights and siren.
At the ER, a monitor showed that Katz indeed was having a heart attack. He needed a cardiac catheterization procedure in which doctors would be able to check the inner workings of his heart.
Katz was sitting up as doctors explained the procedure and handed him consent forms to sign. Then he said, “I feel lightheaded.” And his heart stopped beating. He was in cardiac arrest.
A rescue team rushed in to revive him. Meanwhile, a security guard took Smith Katz out of the room. I could be leaving here alone tonight, she thought.
The security guard began reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Smith Katz told her they were Jewish but to keep the prayers coming.
The rescue effort worked. Katz awoke with the realization, “I think I’m getting CPR.” Indeed, a nurse was on top of him doing chest compressions. Everyone else was looking at him smiling. Katz asked the nurse if they used “the paddles.” Yes, they had. Twice.
A nurse rushed to tell Smith Katz they brought her husband back so fast that “you won’t even have to worry about brain damage.” The thought of his brain being deprived of oxygen hadn’t crossed her mind.
Katz was wheeled to the cath lab, where doctors found a 100% blockage in the artery that carries nearly half of the blood to the heart. A stent was inserted to restore blood flow.
Katz knows everyone who has a heart attack doesn’t go into cardiac arrest, so he feels especially lucky to be alive. In the more than three years since that February 2020 day, he’s told his story countless times to bring awareness.
“I think it’s really important for people to understand how this can happen to someone who doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen to,” he said.
Katz is slim and exercises regularly, running three to four times a week. He was inspired to be active after his father-in-law died of a heart attack in 2012. Katz logged 10 different 5Ks a year prior to his heart attack and ran a half-marathon right before his 50th birthday; he now runs a couple of 5Ks a year.
Katz’s event prompted many of his friends to take stock of their health or visit the doctor after hearing his story. One man went to the hospital with chest pain after hearing Katz speak at an American Heart Association event. He was fine. Another went to the hospital after telling his wife he sensed he was going to die and remembered Katz’s exact words about sensing something was wrong. He was having a heart attack and needed a stent.
Katz gets emotional thinking about how his heart attack terrified his wife and two children, and he’s grateful to have a second chance. He suggests people focus on what they can control like getting more exercise, eating better, reducing stress and learning CPR. And listening to their bodies.
“My cardiologist told me after the fact that if I had come in for a stress test the day before, it probably wouldn’t have shown anything concerning,” he said.
“I was lucky. I experienced symptoms. And I didn’t dismiss them as something less serious. Thank God Marni called 911.”
Stories From the Heart chronicles the inspiring journeys of heart disease and stroke survivors, caregivers and advocates.
Editor’s note: This story was revised on Nov. 7 to remove extraneous detail.