courtesy abbott laboratories
Ed Covert, 46, thought he had a cold coming on when he stopped by the nurse’s station at work. His symptoms felt like chest congestion. “I was having the full feeling in my chest, like when you’ve got a chest cold,” he says. “I was coughing a lot, trying to break the stuffy feeling.” A heavy smoker at the time, he also experienced swelling in his feet that he attributed to standing for most of the day.
The nurses on duty were long-time friends and knew something wasn’t right the moment they saw him. “I asked for some cold medication,” says Covert, a correctional officer for Dutchess County Jail in Poughkeepsie, New York. “The nurse gave me a quick look and said she didn’t think it was a cold and recommended I go to the hospital.” Assuming he had a virus, he drove himself, thinking, “Great, I’ve got some funky bug that’s going around.” (This is why you’re more likely to have a heart attack in the winter.)
At the hospital, a doctor had unexpected news: Covert had mistaken his cold-like symptoms for not one massive heart attack, but two—and he was heading for a third.
The diagnosis wasn’t a complete shock. His father died at 41 due to heart disease, the number one killer of Americans. Still, the news shook up Covert’s life. “They gave me a list of things that I couldn’t do anymore. I was also a part-time farmhand, and I was used to moving bales of hay, 50-pound bags of feed, and dealing with animals. I wasn’t supposed to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk.” Not only was Ed forced to give up his job on the farm and retire from his job as a corrections officer, but he and his wife lost their home as well, which had come with the farm-hand job.
Along with the staggering life changes he experienced, the drugs Covert got after his six-way bypass only seemed to worsen his symptoms. After several trips to the hospital to find the right mix of medication and dosage, one doctor offered him an opportunity to participate in a clinical trial for an implanted device called CardioMEMS. The pressure-sensing device is placed in the pulmonary artery and transmits data to physicians. The technology enables doctors to monitor a patient’s progress remotely and suggest changes as needed.
That was in 2015, and since receiving the device, Covert’s life has been on an upswing. “The device lets the doctors know I’m heading for trouble before even I know about it,” he says. “Since the implantation, I’ve had a few medication changes over the phone—my doctors can make medication changes without a visit.” (Read up on these 9 things to know about heart attacks before you have one.)
Phil Adamson, MD, a medical director at Abbott Laboratories (the company that developed the CardioMEMS), says that the goal of the device is to catch heart problems earlier “reduce the day-to-day burden that patients with heart failure might have and help them live healthier, fuller lives.” While genetics play a role in heart disease, there are other indicators that your heart is in trouble: Watch for these silent signs you might be headed for a heart attack.