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Published on February 16, 2012

Man beats "widow maker"

Hilario Cordova remembers the drive to work last Friday. He started having chest pain.

“The pain was killing me,” Cordova says. He was in a truck with his brother who dialed 9-1-1. They pulled off into a hardware store parking lot. From there it got fuzzy. “I remember hearing the sirens. I remember I felt shocks, three or four times.” The 44-year-old fence builder was having a heart attack—a bad one.

Dr. Jonathan Berry, a Southeastern Heart and Vascular Center cardiologist, was on call at Moses Cone Heart and Vascular Center and found Cordova had a blockage of the left main coronary artery. It is a blockage with such a high death rate that it’s been nicknamed “the widow maker.”

When it comes to treating heart attacks speed counts, and Moses Cone Heart and Vascular Center treats heart attacks nearly twice as fast as national guidelines. The Center averages a “door-to-balloon time” of 55 minutes. The national standard is 90. Berry was working on Cordova’s heart in only 40. And Cordova needed every minute.

“He had 100 percent blockage in his left main coronary artery. That is completely incompatible with life,” Berry says. “He kept trying to die.”

Cordova was shocked 10 times before Dr. Edward Gerhardt, a cardiovascular surgeon, performed emergency bypass surgery to restore a steady flow of blood to his heart.

Berry says Cordova’s incredible outcome was set into motion because he called 911 – rather than coming to the hospital on his own. This ensured he received immediate medical care.

He also came to the right place. Moses Cone Heart and Vascular Center is among 135 heart hospitals to receive the Gold Performance Achievement Award for the treatment of heart attacks from the American College of Cardiology Foundation, and it is in the top 10 percent nationally in overall heart surgery quality, according to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons.

Cordova is expected to make a full recovery. “I believe in God,” Cordova says. “He wanted to leave me here for a reason.”

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