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Feeling the Burn?

Posted on June 1, 2016 in Cardiology

Man’s first case of ‘heartburn’ was actually heart attack

Micahel Smith sits on frame of houseIt was that last bite of pizza. Or so Michael Smith thought.

He figured his usual Friday night pizza delivery included his first-ever case of heartburn. “It was just a burning sensation right there,” he said, pointing to just below his sternum.

But what the seemingly healthy 65-year-old Sevierville man didn’t know is that he wasn’t having heartburn – he was having a heart attack.

“He’d never had indigestion be-fore so he didn’t recognize it,” said Smith’s partner, Yvonne Osborn, who spent the next three hours trying to persuade him to go to the Emergency Department at LeConte Medical Center. “I asked him, ‘What does it feel like?’ He said, ‘I don’t know how to explain it, but it just hurts right here.’ And I said, ‘Mike, that sounds like your heart.’ ‘Oh no,’ he said, ‘I don’t think it would be that.’ That was at 7:30, then I looked over and he was sound asleep in the chair, and I thought, ‘Well, it can’t hurt that bad if he’s sound asleep.’ But we had worked all day, he was tired.”

At 9:45 p.m., Smith awakened just in time to see the winner of the American Idol finale on television. At 10, Yvonne asked if the pain was still there. When he replied that it was, Osborn said she remained calm on the outside, but on the inside, was “screaming, ‘Let’s go!’”

Finally, she told him, “This is crazy to not go because if you don’t go now, I’m going to wake up in the middle of the night and you’re clutching your chest having a heart attack, it’s going to take me some time to get my contacts in so I can drive you and that’s not going to be good because I’m going to be in a bad mood. So, maybe we should just go over there and see what they have to say. It’s not far from our house. If they say you have indigestion, hooray! But let’s just go see. It won’t hurt.’ He finally said, ‘OK, let’s go’ but grudgingly.”

They arrived at LeConte Medical Center’s Emergency Department at about 10:30, walked to the counter and told the receptionist that Smith was “either having a heart attack or has indigestion.”

“I don’t think it was 30 seconds before they took me to triage and did some bloodwork and put me on an EKG and another 30 seconds or minute later, they said, ‘Get a bed! We need a room,’” said Smith. “They hooked me up with all kinds of other stuff, and said ‘You’re having a heart attack.’”

“People came from everywhere,” said Osborn. “There must’ve been 15 people around. Some were putting IVs in each arm, some were putting those heart leads on, another one was on the phone trying to get a helicopter to transport him to Fort Sanders Regional, but it was too windy – thank goodness! It was like in slow motion – I was watching all these people like they were choreographed in a play. It was incredible to me. Then the doctor (Dr. Dennis Mays, a LeConte emergency medicine doctor) came in and he was, of course, listening to the heart. Everybody was doing a different thing.

“They started asking me questions about how I felt,” Smith added. “I said, ‘I feel fine. I don’t feel dizzy. I don’t feel weak. I don’t have any pains. I just have a little pain right here and it’s not bad. And she said, ‘On a scale of 1 to 10 how bad is it?’ I said, ‘Not bad, maybe a .5.’ She said, ‘Five?’ I said, ‘No, point 5.’ I could barely feel it.”

By 11:30 p.m., Smith was in the back of an ambulance, chatting with the emergency medical technicians as they raced to Fort Sanders Regional’s Emergency Department. Along the way, the EMTs were feeding information to FSRMC.

Upon arrival at Fort Sanders Regional, he was wheeled directly to the cath lab where he was met by interventional cardiologist, Dr. Joshua Todd who had found Smith’s right coronary to be 100 percent blocked, requiring a stent.

“He was showing me my heart on the monitor and how the blockage was like a big stop sign right at the end of the vein – no blood passes through here anymore,” said Smith. “Then they put the stent in, and – Boom! – you could see the artery open up and go right down to the heart. My heart is just down there beating away. It was just incredible! You’re awake the whole time and you don’t feel a thing. I was amazed that I didn’t feel any anxiety at all when they said, ‘You’re having a heart attack. I thought I was going to be scared or nervous.”

“I think part of that was the way that everybody handled it,” said Osborn, who says Smith’s heart catheterization and stent was finished and he was in recovery when she arrived at FSRMC at 12:10 a.m. “They were so calm, so forthcoming with information. They told me everything that was going on and that really reduced my anxiety because I’ve never been through this before. They were so kind about giving me every single detail, about what was going to happen, where it was going to happen, and I think that was very important. They all deserve credit for the way they handled everything so professionally. And not just professionally, (but) the kindness they exhibited was really important.”

A day and a half later, Smith was discharged from FSRMC with instructions not to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk for seven days. After the seventh day, he didn’t rest.

Instead, he returned to the task he was working on before his heart attack – building a three-bedroom, two-bath home which he and Osborn will “flip” in two years, something the couple has been doing for 17 years as they traveled throughout the United States.

For now, however, Smith’s heart has found a home in Sevierville where Osborn plans to keep a close watch on his heart. “If you have a pain, don’t be embarrassed, don’t feel badly – just go!” she said. “If they tell you that you’ve got indigestion, great! But it might not be.”

To learn more about comprehensive heart care at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, visit, or call (865) 673-FORT (3678).