For the past few years Henry had experienced intermittent chest pains, but a previous echocardiogram — where Henry ran on a treadmill so his doctors could monitor his heart function — showed no signs of problems. He believed he had a digestive condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and had found that if he fasted the day before a performance, he didn’t experience any painful acid reflux.
To ease any discomfort while singing, “I’d been fasting most of the time when I worked,” explains Henry. “So I hadn’t really eaten anything or had anything to drink. When I was taken into the ambulance, I thought all I needed was water.”
As Henry began to protest about being taken to the hospital, “the EMT said, ‘You just died twice and you experienced a heart attack.’”
Henry was rushed to NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, where Dr. Irobunda performed an emergency surgery.
“Henry was brought quickly to the cardiac catheterization laboratory, where we successfully opened an artery that was completely blocked and put in a stent,” says Dr. Irobunda, who is also the Jim Ovia Associate Professor of Cardiology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “We also found out that his heart muscle function was quite weak, so he was transferred to the cardiac care unit for observation.”
Henry was in the ICU for only 12 hours and felt “really good,” he says. Within 24 hours, his blood pressure stabilized, and before too long he was joking with the nurses, singing to them and comparing favorite restaurants in the neighborhood where he’s been a lifelong resident.
Henry was able to go home after four days, an unusually fast turnaround for someone who suffered from cardiac arrest. “Most patients, by the time they get to our emergency room, they don’t have good mental status or are really nonresponsive,” says Dr. Irobunda. “The earlier a person gets resuscitated, they have a higher chance of recovering versus if they go longer without return of blood flow.”
Which is why Henry says he is grateful for the doctors who came to his aid on that July night. “This could have happened anywhere,” says Henry. “It could have happened on the street. It could have happened in our house. I could only have survived this [heart attack] where it did happen. And not just survive it, but to thrive? That’s the true miracle.”