For Harvey Ivey, March 28 started like any other day. But in a flash, his world changed forever.
“When I left my office for lunch that day, I felt the same as I do right now,” said Ivey, Technical Services vice president at Southern Company near Birmingham. “I was about halfway across the parking lot to my car when I started experiencing some tightness in my chest and some pain. Initially, I thought it was sore muscles because I’d had some allergy issues and had been coughing.
“But after I sat in my car for a second, I realized the pain was getting more intense. After a couple of minutes, I recognized because of our safety training at work that I had all the symptoms of a heart attack,” he said.
Ivey said by that time, pain was coursing through his left arm and into his chest. He had also grown pale, begun sweating and was short of breath.
“Fortunately, I have learned along the way not to panic in a crisis, so I thought through my options,” said the 57-year-old.
While dialing 911, Ivey flipped on his car’s flashers to make it easier for the ambulance driver to spot him among the sea of vehicles in the parking lot. Meanwhile, he quickly texted two friends to explain his situation, knowing that he needed a backup plan.
Arriving on the scene within minutes, the paramedics quickly began assessing Ivey’s condition. They conducted an echocardiogram onboard the ambulance and sent the results to a cardiologist on duty in the emergency room at a nearby hospital.
“Technology is pretty amazing,” said Ivey. “The cardiologist met me at the ER door and wheeled me right into the lab to conduct an angiogram. He already knew where the blockage was from the EKG information he had received from the paramedics. Exactly 11 minutes from the time I came through the ER door, the problem was solved.”
The surgeon inserted a stent to open the blocked artery, providing Ivey with immediate relief from the pain.
Although he returned to work in less than a week, Ivey’s ordeal was far from over. He underwent bypass surgery six weeks later to repair four additional blockages that had been uncovered during the angiogram.
Ivey said receiving the stent was a “piece of cake” compared to the bypass surgery, which was a more extensive procedure. It was eight weeks before he could return to work full time.
Preparation and timing
Ivey emphasized that the ongoing safety training at Southern Company, which includes biannual CPR classes for employees, helped save his life. The training helped him identify his symptoms and know how to react.
Before that spring day, Ivey had no inkling that plaque was building up inside his arteries. Previous EKGs had not uncovered the issue.
Ivey said he has always been “fairly healthy.” He exercises and has been working hard to drop a few pounds.
But with a family history of heart disease, Ivey was a prime candidate. His dad underwent three bypasses, and his uncles all suffer from heart conditions.
“I believe there was divine intervention,” Ivey said of that day in the parking lot. “If it had happened 24 hours later, when I was scheduled to drive to a meeting in Mobile, I would have been on the road by myself in the middle of nowhere, and it would have taken a lot longer to get help.”
A survivor’s advice
Ivey urges people who think they are candidates for a heart attack to know the symptoms and know their family history.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Each year, about 735,000 Americans suffer heart attacks. About 610,000 people die from the disease.
“Understand what to do if you think you are having a heart attack,” advised Ivey. “Try not to panic. You can lose your reason and your ability to think. Dial 911 and have a backup plan. If you remain calm, your chances of survival are much better.”
Since his recovery, Ivey has redoubled his efforts to remain healthy. He has lost 25 pounds since January and always wears his personal fitness device to track his steps. No matter whether he is in the office, out of town on business or vacation, or at home on the weekend, Ivey makes sure he walks 10,000 steps every day.
“I feel great,” Ivey said. “One of my peers refers to me as Harvey 2.0 because he says, ‘You have more energy and more color, and we can’t slow you down.’”