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Heart Attack Survivor Shares Valuable Lessons

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When Jerry Riggin felt tightness in his chest, he thought little of it, believing he’d pulled a muscle.

He stubbornly blew off the persistent pain as it worsened over a few days before deciding a doctor visit might be a good idea. 

Riggin didn’t end up in the doctor’s office, but the UVMC Emergency Department with a heart attack.

Three years later and more than 50 pounds lighter, Riggin said he recommends others respond differently if faced with a similar situation.

“Don’t be stubborn. It’s not worth it,” he said. “If I had gone sooner maybe they could have done something prior (to an attack). That is the strongest thing I tell people, outside of eating properly, which I also should have done.”

Riggin said. The Troy resident is production manager at SEW Eurodrive in Troy, where he has worked 38 years.

It was three years ago in January when Riggin called his wife to take him to the Emergency Department just hours after a doctor’s appointment he had made after not feeling well for several days. Doctors found he had 95 percent and 90 percent blockage and he ended up with three stents placed at Good Samaritan Hospital.

A couple of weeks later, the UVMC CardioPulmonary Rehabilitation Department called to talk with him, as recommended by his cardiologist. 

It was, he said, one of the smartest moves he’d made during his health crisis.

In his initial interview with unit nurse Jennie Blythe, Riggin set a weight loss goal of 10 pounds. Over following months, with routine exercise at cardiac rehab and watching what he ate with the aid of wife, Bev, he lost 61 pounds. Today, he has maintained a loss of about 55 pounds.

“It is like anything else, it is moderation, but I think the big thing is the workout,” said Riggin who continues to visit the cardiac rehab unit three days a week.

“I couldn’t do it without my buddies, my family” he said of the workout routine and the “regulars” also working out at the unit. “But, the most important thing is the nurses keep motivating you. I don’t think any of us would come back without them … It’s just because of their attitudes, concern about us.”

He could work out elsewhere but chooses to return to the UVMC site because of the staff and the Emergency Department’s location just down the hall, Riggin said.

“They (unit staff) are always looking around, making sure you are OK. The staff is outstanding,” he said. “They work great together and make us feel better that we have them to take care of us. We wouldn’t trade them for the world.”

Riggin’s advice for others includes calling an ambulance versus asking someone to drive them to the hospital. He called his wife, later realizing he could have put her in jeopardy if his condition would have worsened as she was driving.

“The smart thing to do is to call the ambulance because they have the equipment on board,” he said. 

Routine exercise, eating right and stress management also were cited by Riggin as important. “The stress is something I do better at, but not where I should be. If everybody could control that, I think we’d all be better off,” he said.

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