It was a really lousy day for Doug Wilcox.
The self-employed landscaper was laying sod in 100-degree heat last August when he couldn't catch his breath. "I thought the heat and humidity were getting to me," the 52-year-old Wilcox remembered. "I also thought, 'I'm getting old!'"
He leaned against a fence. "I about passed out," he told a co-worker. "'What do you mean?' the co-worker said. 'You did pass out!'"
Worried, Wilcox called his primary care physician, who took blood samples and set up a heart stress test for him. The Friday he took the test was a day he'll never forget. "I found out on the same day that I was diabetic and that I'd failed the stress test. I had 90 percent blockage."
Interventional Cardiologist Himanshu Agarwal, M.D., looked over the results of the stress test that day at Alegent Creighton Health Immanuel Medical Center. The results were abnormal. Just mere minutes later, Dr. Agarwal saw him on the same floor in the office at Alegent Creighton Health Heart & Vascular Institute. "From there we quickly sent him to the cardiac catheterization lab, again just minutes later," he said. "I found the blockage and I fixed the blockage. This is how efficiently and quickly the system works."
Dr. Agarwal performed an angioplasty, a lifesaving treatment in which a catheter with a small balloon tip is inserted and inflated to open a blocked artery. The procedure often follows the most serious type of heart attack. Then he placed a stent in his patient's coronary artery to prevent the artery from re-closing.
"I look back now and I kind of laugh," Wilcox remembered. "I was dealing with two things at the same time. I was lucky I walked in instead of coming through the emergency department."
Heart disease runs in his family; his father had a quadruple bypass about a dozen years ago. After his procedure, Wilcox started cardiac rehabilitation right away and joined a gym, which he continues to use. "I enjoyed rehab," he said.
"I'd thought about working out for years. I always thought, 'I need to do it!'"
He also modified his eating habits, with the help of Alegent Creighton Health dietitians. He started counting carbs and reading labels. "I'd had symptoms for quite a while. I'd put things off for 30 years. It was always so easy to go through the drive-through."
Dr. Agarwal remembered seeing his patient four months later. "Doug had all the risk factors for heart disease—poor eating habits and family history. When I saw him he'd lost 40 pounds and modified his lifestyle. His blood pressure was so much better."
But Dr. Agarwal also sees patients who don't took the warning signs "to heart" like Wilcox did. Heart disease is "still the number one killer in the U.S.," the cardiologist said. His advice to anyone who's at risk—become informed through health fairs, Heart Healthy cooking classes and websites such as www.AlegentCreighton.com/Heart."
Wilcox lost even more weight after seeing Dr. Agarwal and now proudly teaches his overweight friends how to read labels. "It's surprising how many people don't know how to do it," he said. "I explain to them that this is not a diet.
It's a lifestyle. I just eat the right stuff."
He's paying half as much for life insurance and recently donated 60 pairs of pants and shirts that were too big for him to charity. He's no longer considered diabetic and doesn't finish off everything on his plate at restaurants. "I actually take food home now. I quit eating like a pig," he said.
He knew he was doing something right when his daughter came home recently and rummaged for a snack in the kitchen. "She complained to me," he said with a big smile. "She said, 'There's nothing good in the cupboards!'"