PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Dennis King never would have guessed an illness he had as an infant would lead to a heart disease diagnosis about seven decades later.
King ,76, tells 12 News he started feeling fatigued and struggling with shortness of breath about five years ago, but brushed it off.
“I thought it was my age catching up with me,” King said. “It started to creep up on me little by little, worse and worse each time.”
King knew it was time to seek medical help. He explained his symptoms to his doctor during a recent physical exam, who then referred him to a cardiologist.
“She immediately did a stress test, and I failed terribly, a minute and 49 seconds I think it was … that’s when they determined I had a problem,” King explained.
King said he and his doctors went though his medical history, which included him having rheumatic fever as an infant. The cardiologist also heard a murmur in King’s evaluation, and ordered an echocardiogram.
The exam revealed that King had a narrow and restricted mitral valve in the heart. King was then referred to Lifespan’s Cardiovascular Institute.
Dr. Afshin Ehsan, a cardiothoracic surgeon with the Lifespan Cardiovascular Institute, explained that rheumatic fever led to the heart disease.
Left untreated, it resulted in scarring to King’s heart. He said in King’s case, the symptoms that led to his diagnosis came later in life than a person may typically be diagnosed.
“I probably attribute that to the fact that he’s in such good shape, that he was maybe able to overcome some of the limitations that most other people would have shown up with sooner,” Ehsan said. “He was better compensated because he was in good shape.”
Ehsan said he’s had patients who have dismissed real symptoms because they believe it’s connected to their age. He hopes people who hear King’s story will bring their concerns to their doctors as soon as they arise.
“It’s really important to listen to your body,” he said. “When you have a symptom that is that is not a typical feeling is something new, is something that’s altering your ability to carry on your day to day life, that you should pay attention to it.”
Ehsan said when it comes to heart disease, symptoms can include chest pain, chest pressure, shortness of breath, feeling heart palpitations and getting lightheaded.
“Any of these symptoms that are happening that weren’t there three or six months before, and are more importantly limiting your quality of life or limiting the ability to do the things that you normally do, you need to see your doctor,” Ehsan said.
“At some point, not only are the symptoms the issue, but it starts to actually damage the heart,” he continued. “When you get to a point where the heart is damaged, then it makes recovery more difficult, and the likelihood of recovering becomes much more difficult as well.”
King had a successful heart surgery back in March and is now three weeks into a cardiac rehabilitation program, where he does various physical exercises and also learns about other ways to keep heart healthy.
He hopes his story will help encourage others not to wait around if they’re not feeling well.
“Don’t try all of those over-the-counter remedies,” he said. “Go to the people that know what they’re talking about, and if they don’t, they’ll direct you to someone who does know what they’re talking about.”