FAIRFIELD — Tim Woodson had a nagging worry. His father had a heart attack at 49 and died. He wondered if the same would happen to him.
Woodson was approaching that same birthday.
“I was nervous,” he said. “But I took care of myself. I thought I was doing the right thing.”
He just had to make it through the last two months of 2012 and first 10 months of 2013, then the “curse” would pass.
About two months after his 49th birthday, the health and safety manager had a massive heart attack. It was Dec. 22, 2012.
“I didn’t recognize the symptoms,” he said, almost apologetically, noting that he is trained in first aid and CPR and teaches both. “I was sick to my stomach. My whole upper body was cramped.”
Woodson decided to take a rest. He didn’t feel any better. His wife called 911.
He remembered being amazed at the number of people – there must have been 20, he said – waiting for him outside the NorthBay Medical Center emergency room. An EKG en route diagnosed it as an ST elevation myocardial infraction, the most serious heart attack.
At the hospital, two stents were inserted into his heart. Woodson was also placed on an intra-aortic balloon pump, which increases oxygen in the heart and the amount of blood being pumped by the heart.
Four shocks from an automated external defibrillator were also part of the treatment. Woodson only remembers the first, and that it hurt.
“It was like bolt of lightning,” he said. “Like a bus that hit me in the face.”
A day after Christmas, Woodson had quadruple bypass surgery. A few days later, he went to the restroom, looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the face looking back at him.
“I had opened the gown and looked at myself,” he said. “I had retained so much fluid, I did not recognize my body. I couldn’t picture it going back (to what it was before.)”
He was transferred to Kaiser Permanente Vacaville Medical Center before being discharged. Kaiser is his health care provider. Due to the severity of his condition, he was taken first to NorthBay, the nearest hospital with a cardiac unit.
Coming home on Jan. 3 bought a whole new set of challenges, especially on the emotional front.
“I had like a massive breakdown,” he said. “I realized, ‘This is the reality of what happened to me.’ ”
His father died in his sleep. Woodson was afraid to go to sleep. There was a sense of security in the hospital, with the doctors close by. At home, he feared his family would find him dead.
Woodson found some online support groups. He wanted more and discovered a Mended Hearts group in Walnut Creek.
“It was the group I had been looking for,” he said.
Now, he’s starting a local chapter of the Mended Hearts. The idea gets a big thumbs up from Dr. Sarah Minasyan, his cardiothoracic surgeon at NorthBay Medical Center.
Woodson introduced her to the support group. While heart surgery is somewhat routine these days, Minasyan said there still risks involved.
Mended Hearts offers heart surgery patients a safe place to share their concerns and experiences. While these can be addressed with the physician, Minasyan said people are more likely to open up with other lay people.
Her mother died from lung cancer, she said. Prior to her death, the two attended support groups. Minasyan saw a bond develop among the group members.
Minasyan also noticed that women tend to seek out support groups more often than men. Yet, more men end up being diagnosed with heart disease, she said.
Woodson will turn 50 on Halloween. When someone of his age has a heart attack, it’s often tied to genetics, Minasyan said. She wouldn’t let him leave the hospital without talking to his 15- and-13-year-old sons.
“I told them what they could control as far as risk factors,” she said.
Minasyan said she would love to be invited to speak at the new Mended Hearts group.
“What Tim has gone through, we were there with him,” she said. “We all have a little piece of him with us.”
He will celebrate his 50th birthday with a trip to Disneyland.
“For me it’s huge,” he said of hitting the half-century mark. “For me, it’s a huge benchmark. It’s a new beginning. So many things have happened in the last year.”
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.