Firefighter Nearly Ignores His Own Heart Attack

Just because your job requires you to swiftly recognize and respond to heart attack symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you recognize those same symptoms in yourself. Just ask David Pittman, a 40-year-old firefighter paramedic and father of two.

“I was home breaking up concrete with a sledge hammer.” It was a hot Saturday afternoon in August. “I was suddenly hot, short of breath, and sweating, but really didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t have any chest pain. I took a break and went inside, thinking I had just over-exerted. I poured cold water on my head and felt a little better, but then quickly felt worse again. I still thought I was just overheated.

Recognizing Symptoms Led David to Take Action

“It wasn’t until I noticed jaw pain that I decided maybe I ought to do something.”

The “something” he decided to do was to drive himself to the local fire station where he works. (Of course, he admits now that his advice to anyone else experiencing these same symptoms would be to call 911.)

There, his co-workers treated him as they would anyone with similar symptoms – placing him in a squad and quickly running an EKG. The test showed that David was having a heart attack, and the paramedics told him they needed to take him immediately to Bethesda North Hospital. Still in denial, David insisted, “Let me go get my wife,” not processing what he certainly knew, that time was of the essence.

The squad called ahead to Bethesda North so that when they arrived, TriHealth Heart Institute cardiologist Stephen Lewis MD and the cardiac cath team were standing by. As tests in the Emergency Department confirmed that David was having a heart attack, the cardiac cath lab was readied for him so they could quickly open his blocked artery. Less than an hour passed between the time that he got to the hospital and when his artery was opened, well below the national benchmark of 90 minutes.

“Because I am a paramedic, I wanted to watch on the screen, but my view was blocked. They let me watch the film later,” he laughs.

A Second Chance at a Healthier Life

After a second procedure to place a stent in another artery about a month later, David is well on his way to recovery and ready to get back to his job of caring for others. He’s diligently participating in cardiac rehab three days a week, and walking on his own on the other days.

David was aware that he was at higher risk for a heart attack due to family history, but admitted he hadn’t always done everything he should to prevent it. Now, he’s trying to make changes in his lifestyle. “I definitely see changes coming, I’m hoping that I can stick with them the rest of my life. I have two little ones and I want to be around to see them grow up.

“It stinks that it takes this kind of occurrence to make you change,” he acknowledged.

He’s grateful for the care he received at Bethesda North, and being a firefighter paramedic gives him added perspective. “I’ve always had good experience with Bethesda North. Bethesda North is an excellent hospital, and has a good reputation for cardiac care.”

Tags Heart