Know heart attack symptoms - Being informed saved Paul's life

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Paul Olson looks at copies of an EKG taken when he was admitted to the CCH emergency room.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


Paul Olson got an unexpected and priceless gift for Christmas—the gift of life.

Olson survived a heart attack that struck without warning just three days before Christmas. The 68-year-old Elkader businessman had no prior heart or blood pressure issues. There’s a family history of heart disease but until December 22, Olson had very little reason to be concerned about his own health.

“I just got back from a big delivery in Greeley,” Olson said. “It seems like the minute I walked into the store, I got really, really hot. Then I got a tight feeling across my chest—not a pain but a really tight feeling. I was pretty sure then that it was a heart attack.”

Olson and his wife, Gloria, closed their store, Olsen’s Appliance, and raced to Central Community Hospital. The emergency room workers there confirmed the heart attack. Olson was given a number of medications. A helicopter was ordered for transfer to St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids.

“The nurses told Gloria before I left to give me a kiss good-bye because they weren’t sure I’d make to Cedar Rapids,” Olson said.

The flight was 30 minutes. Upon landing, Olson was whisked into an operating room and a procedure known as angioplasty was performed to open a significantly blocked vessel.  Another 30 minutes later and Olson was snugged into bed din a hospital room.

“It all went pretty fast,” he said. “I was done and in a room before Gloria even made it to the hospital.”

Olson knows that he’s luck to have survived. The type of heart attacked he suffered is known as a “widowmaker” for its high fatality rate. 

Olson credits familiarity with heart attack symptoms for helping to save his life. He has been a volunteer on the Elkader Fire Department for 35 years. Firefighters are taught heart attack warning signs and CPR.

Of course, access to good health care was also beneficial. Olson, who had never before encountered emergency care as a patient, was impressed with the expertise both in Elkader and Cedar Rapids. He is immensely grateful to all medical professionals involved in his care for saving his life.

Never one to take medications, not even an aspirin, Olson is adjusting to the drugs he now must take. A reaction soon after he returned home ended in another trip to St. Luke’s, this time by ambulance. That issue was quickly resolved. Now all that’s left is from Olson to complete 26 sessions of cardiac rehab—he’s done eight so far—and watch his diet and exercise regimes.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” Olson said. “I’m very aware of that. I plan on taking very good care of myself.”

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