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Otherwise Healthy Physician Suffers Heart Attack Without Dramatic Symptoms

Otherwise Healthy Physician Suffers Heart Attack Without Dramatic Symptoms

By Author Name

Jun 13, 2022

Updated Oct 25, 2023

5 min read

Otherwise Healthy Physician Suffers Heart Attack Without Dramatic Symptoms

When Dr. Teyen Shiao, a bariatric surgeon at St. Mary’s Medical Center, awoke with a strange feeling in his chest, the words “heart attack” didn’t top his list of possible causes. Instead, his money was on heartburn or esophageal spasms.

After all, he had no apparent risk factors for heart disease. 

What he did have was a strange idea. Since the sensation in his chest persisted, he thought he’d mow the lawn.

To mow or not to mow

As a physician, Dr. Shiao knew a heart attack brings pain with exertion. So, he figured it wasn't a heart attack if he didn’t have pain while mowing.

“For me, that was the perfect stress test,” he said. “The flip side is if I exert myself, it could have made things worse, and I could have keeled over and died.”

Dr. Shiao’s wife, Michelle, is the chief nursing officer at St. Mary's. She thought his idea was, well, nuts. “She said, ‘You’re crazy. We’re going to the emergency room,’” he recalled.

A diagnosis

Although a heart attack seemed unlikely, the ER team ordered various tests and scans. One of those scans showed his right coronary artery was blocked.

“My symptoms weren’t classic, but here I was having a heart attack,” said Dr. Shiao.

Dr. Muhammad Azzouz, a cardiologist at St. Mary’s, determined Dr. Shiao’s right coronary artery was 100-percent blocked, and his circumflex artery was 70-percent blocked. It was a scary diagnosis, but one that stents (tubes that open passageways) could fix.  

Surgery to heal the physician

That morning, Dr. Azzouz placed four stents in the blocked arteries. 

“Traditionally, they go through the groin, but Dr. Azzouz is very skilled and was trained to go through the wrist and the radial artery,” Dr. Shiao said. “The procedure was smooth. I went home a day later.” 

Dr. Azzouz said the surgery is “truly straightforward,” adding: “The tough part was doing the procedure on somebody you work with. I’m honored that he had complete trust in me.” 

Dr. Azzouz also praised Michelle Shiao’s insistence on going to the hospital. Even for physicians it can be hard to recognize a heart attack, he added.

Click here to learn more about heart care at St. Mary’s.