Michael Berry of Knoxville is living proof that you can be in great shape and still have heart disease. In September 2016 he was just 55 years old and weighed a trim 158 pounds when he had a heart attack.
“I was leading a spin class – it was a good routine, typical of what I do,” Berry said. “But as we were cooling down, I felt exhausted, like I had run a marathon. I thought, ‘Why do I feel so weak?’ I thought maybe I was getting the flu.” Berry drove 25 minutes home. When he got inside, he started to sweat and felt light-headed.
“Fortunately my wife was home. She looked at my face and said, ‘You’re turning white. I told my wife to call 911,” said Berry. “From there on I have no more memory.”
Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) took Berry to Parkwest Medical Center. On the way there, Berry went into full cardiac arrest. The EMTs used a defibrillator to shock him and restore his heartbeat.
At Parkwest, cardiologist Dr. Nicholaos Xenopoulos took Berry into the heart catheterization lab, and found four plaque blockages his heart, two of them life-threatening. Using angioplasty, Dr. Xenopoulos repaired the two worst blockages and sedated Berry in an induced hypothermia. Sometimes called a “cold coma,” the hypothermia can often preserve brain cell function after a heart attack. Five days later, Berry woke up. He was shocked to learn what had happened.
Dr. Xenopoulos said family history can be a significant factor in heart disease.
“Dr. Berry was unusual, but people who are in good shape are not immune to coronary heart disease. They typically have a tendency because of their genetics,” he said.
After his hospitalization, Berry began regaining his strength at Parkwest’s Phase II cardiac rehabilitation program. Three times each week he did gradual, monitored exercises and attended classes in stress management, medication management, and heart-healthy nutrition.
After several weeks in cardiac rehab, Berry had the other two blockages in his heart repaired in a non-emergency procedure at Parkwest. Just two weeks before being discharged from the cardiac rehab program, Berry began to run again.
Today Berry is again teaching computer science and math at UT, and a number of fitness classes. He’s even thinking about competing in another triathlon.
Meanwhile, Berry said he would recommend Parkwest to anyone needing heart care. “I highly recommend Parkwest. I can’t say enough about them,” he said. “And the cardiac rehab staff was great, too. I was just so impressed with their professionalism, and the time and patience they had with me.
“I made it to my 56th birthday, and danced at my daughter’s wedding. I get to start over. I have to be positive about it, because some people don’t get a second chance,” said Berry. “I don’t wish this experience on anybody, but I thank God He looked over me and that I was where someone could help me. I’m on my second life now.”