• Couple who both received heart treatment

Heart to Heart: Homewood Couple Supports Each Other During Health Scare

After nearly five decades of marriage, Carla and Dennis Benard still travel together, enjoy fine dining, and are committed to leading a healthy lifestyle. The fun-loving Homewood couple shares just about everything. Last year, they discovered they have something else in common: heart disease.

Carla's Story

For Carla, it all began in June 2015 when the avid walker noticed something out of the ordinary during her morning workouts.

“My throat would constrict when I walked a couple blocks,” the retired teacher explains. “I would stop and try to get my breathing under control, and then I would start up again. At first, I honestly thought it might be stress.”

When Carla’s daughter finally convinced her to see her family doctor, Cressa Perish, M.D., Dr. Perish told Carla it could be something much more serious – coronary artery disease.

“Dr. Perish said women’s symptoms aren’t necessarily the same as men’s,” Carla says. “I never had any chest pain, arm pain or nausea.”

Following a referral to cardiologist P. Sandy Sundram, M.D., Carla was stunned to hear she had not one but five blocked coronary arteries that were constricting blood flow to her heart. Though she exercised regularly and never smoked, she had an elevated cholesterol level – especially her LDL – and what she refers to as an “obnoxious family history” of heart disease. “I guess I had been in wonderful denial,” she explains.

In June, she underwent the first of two stent procedures at Ingalls. “I had three stents put in in June for the most severely blocked arteries,” she adds. “I needed two more, but I decided to wait until August because my husband and I were traveling in July.”

WOMEN’S Heart Attack Symptoms

  • Unusual fatigue lasting for several days or sudden severe fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Lightheadedness
  • Indigestion or gas-like pain
  • Upper back, shoulder, or throat pain
  • Jaw pain or pain that spreads up to your jaw
  • Pressure or pain in the center of your chest, which may spread to your arm

Dennis' Story

Their trip to Orlando, Fla., went smoothly until a day or two before they left, when Dennis, who’s always been the picture of health, felt pressure in his chest walking from his car to a restaurant where they planned to eat. “I didn’t know what in the world it was,” he remembers.

When they returned home, Dennis, who owns a medical staffing company in Chicago, was getting ready for work one morning. All seemed well until the uncomfortable pressure in his chest returned. Nervous, Dennis prayed for a definitive sign so he would know what to do. He got his answer when he broke out in a cold sweat.

He alerted Carla and told her he needed help. But instead of letting Carla call an ambulance, he told her to take him to Ingalls Urgent Aid in Flossmoor. “That was the most harrowing eight minutes of my life,” Carla adds.

When he arrived at Flossmoor, the team there quickly assessed he was having a specific type of heart attack called a STEMI (ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction) that needed immediate treatment to reopen his blocked artery.

Within minutes, he was taken by ambulance to Ingalls Hospital. Dennis was whisked to one of the hospital’s cardiac catheterization labs where he was met by interventional cardiologist Abed Dehnee, M.D., who performed a lifesaving angioplasty to reopen Dennis’s 90-percent blocked right coronary artery. Dr. Dehnee then implanted a drug-eluting stent to keep the artery open. “I remember asking one of the nurses at Ingalls, ‘When are we going to get started?’ And she told me, ‘We’re already done!’ The Ingalls team was all over me. They were amazing,” he added.

The American College of Cardiology calls it “door-to-balloon” time – the minutes it takes from the time a STEMI patient arrives at the hospital until his or her artery has been reopened. The standard is 90 minutes or less, which Ingalls heart experts handily met in Dennis’s case – even with his initial stop at Flossmoor!

Following a brief hospital stay, Dennis was back to work the following week. Carla had her remaining two stents put in the following month and takes a statin drug to bring her LDL back down to a safe level. Today, the two are more committed than ever to living a heart-healthy life.

MEN’S Heart Attack Symptoms

  • Standard chest pain that feels like "an elephant" is sitting on your chest, with a squeezing sensation that may come and go or remain constant and intense
  • Upper body pain or discomfort, including arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Stomach discomfort that feels like indigestion
  • Shortness of breath, which may leave you feeling like you can't get enough air, even when resting
  • Dizziness or feeling like you're going to pass out
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

His and Hers Rehab

Though they both completed 12 full weeks of cardiac rehabilitation at Ingalls, they didn’t do it together. “I’m retired; 6:30 a.m.’s too early for me,” Carla explains with a laugh. Carla continues her fitness work with a personal trainer, and lifelong fitness enthusiast Dennis now splits his time between weight training and cardio workouts.

“The Ingalls Cardiac Rehab team was fantastic,” Dennis adds. “Ingalls really has a Cadillac program there.” Best of all, the devoted duo motivate and encourage each other. “Spouses can play a big role in supporting each other,” Dr. Dehnee explains. “Carla and Dennis are a great couple, and they’re very engaged in their treatment plan.”

“It’s all about creating a better lifestyle for ourselves,” Carla adds. “I’m working closely with Dr. Dehnee on my medication and diet choices so that I never have to get another stent again.”

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