Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., but it’s easy to think it won’t affect you if you’re young, eat well, and exercise regularly. That’s what Pomfret resident, Reverend David Choquette, who has been an avid runner for years, thought.
He didn’t look the part; 47 years old, in great physical shape, running 4-5 miles a day. Not the kind of person you would expect to have heart trouble of any sort. Still, heart disease caught up with Rev. Choquette just the same – but only for a while. Just ten weeks after a heart attack, he was back to running. It was an accomplishment, he said, made possible by the cardiac rehab staff at Day Kimball Hospital (DKH).
Rev. Choquette found his love for running on his high school’s cross country team. He has carried his passion for the sport throughout his life, running daily for exercise and actively competing in a few half-marathons each year since 2008.
It was while training for the Hartford Marathon in August 2019 that Rev. Choquette first realized something was wrong, but he never expected it to be a serious heart event. On a run one Friday morning, he began to experience shortness of breath and discomfort in his upper chest and wrists, causing him to realize that needed to get to the emergency department. That decision saved his life.
When he entered the Townsend Emergency Medical Center at Day Kimball Hospital, he was immediately sent through to an examination room and provided care within minutes of his arrival. An electrocardiogram was taken to examine what may have been the cause of his symptoms. It turned out that despite his good physical condition, Rev. Choquette was having a heart attack.
“I was very impressed with my experience in the emergency department. The attention and care I received from my doctor and nurse during a stressful and scary time was comforting and compassionate,” said Rev. Choquette.
His care team in the emergency department, which included emergency medicine physician, Dr. Joel Bogner, realized that the level of care Rev. Choquette required called for an immediate transfer to a tertiary facility. He was transported by ambulance to Hartford Hospital where he continued his care. A doctor performed a cardiac catheterization which revealed that no coronary arteries were blocked, but did show evidence of a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD).
“I thought I was exempt from heart disease because I was active and had no family history of cardiovascular illness. But I learned that there are other factors that can contribute to a heart attack,” said Rev. Choquette.
“It’s scary to think that an otherwise healthy person can have a heart attack, seemingly out of nowhere, but these situations do happen,” said Carol Artiaco, RN and clinical coordinator, Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, Day Kimball Hospital. “You can do everything in your power to fight off heart disease, but sometimes it just happens. Occasionally it’s not plaque in the arteries. It could be a valve or a heart rhythm problem. It’s very individualistic.”
Sometimes a heart attack is the result of spontaneous tearing in the coronary artery wall, as in Rev. Choquette’s case. The artery wall has three layers. When a tear occurs, blood is able to pass through the innermost layer and becomes trapped. This narrows or blocks the artery and can cause a heart attack since blood flow cannot reach the heart muscle.
SCAD is an uncommon occurrence and although it can cause a life-threatening heart attack, SCAD patients don’t typically have other heart disease related factors. Warning signs may include chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, and dizziness.
Treatment for SCAD patients differs from other heart attack patients who may require a procedure to insert a stent to hold the artery open or bypass surgery. More conservative therapy that emphasizes blood pressure control and medication can have better results for SCAD patients. For Rev. Choquette, medical management was advised, and two days later he returned home. But his journey to recovery would continue over the next few months.
Following his heart attack, Rev. Choquette began the 12-week, 36 session cardiac rehab program at DKH with a goal of returning to running. The cardiac rehab team worked with him to establish his exercise thresholds based on his heart-rate targets and the level of activity he hoped to achieve.
“When I was being wheeled in for the catheterization, I wondered what this now meant for my running career,” said Rev. Choquette. “It has meant a gradual recovery. When I came to the cardiac rehab program, they knew my goal was to get back to running, and together, we worked to achieve that goal. With the guidance and support of the dedicated team of nurses and an exercise physiologist in the program, I was cleared by my cardiologist to run a 5K just in time for the Hartford Marathon in October.”
The Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation program at DKH is an outpatient program of supervised exercise and education, specially designed to help patients who have suffered a recent cardiac event to return to and maintain the highest quality of life possible. 100 new patients participate in DKH’s program each year.
DKH’s Cardiac Rehab Center is staffed by a team of registered nurses and an exercise physiologist who are educated and experienced in assisting cardiac patients in recovering from and preventing heart disease. The program follows the guidelines of the American Association of Cardiovascular Pulmonary Rehabilitation and the American College of Sports Medicine and meets national standards of excellence in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation patient care.
Cardiac rehab was instrumental in getting Rev. Choquette back to his active lifestyle. “I went to the cardiac rehab program three days a week for an hour and received the supervision I needed, giving me confidence that I was doing the correct exercises safely” said Rev. Choquette. “The program provided me a structured setting where I had medical staff available to give me support if I needed it and set me back on track.”
Beyond the regular exercise sessions, Rev. Choquette took advantage of educational classes that aim to help participants navigate lifestyle changes and lower their risk factors.
As for Rev. Choquette, he has successfully completed his personalized 12-week rehabilitation program. He says the benefits – in the form of both the acquaintances and the knowledge he’s gained – continue to make an impact. Most notably, he found a community of people who understood his challenges and worked side by side to overcome barriers that are both physical and emotional.
Rev. Choquette is grateful for the comfort and support he found in the cardiac rehab program. “I was impressed by the team’s knowledge and understanding of what I was going through. But, I benefited more than just physically from the program. There’s collaboration among patients supporting each other and between the providers who work one-on-one with them to achieve their goals. The fellowship you build with others going through the same experience is really motivating,” he said.
Rev. Choquette is in recovery and feeling himself again. Being active, eating healthy, and taking his medication are among the things he continues to do to live well. He is back to training for future half-marathons including the UConn Health Half Marathon and the Special Olympic Torch Run with the Putnam and Enfield Police Departments in June, the Hartford Marathon in October and plans to return to DKH’s Cardiac Rehab Center during winter seasons to maintain his heart health.
Rev. Choquette looks forward to an active future with a positive attitude. When he’s not training for half-marathons or overseeing his parishes which include St. Mary’s in Putnam, Holy Trinity in Pomfret, and St. Joseph’s and St. Stephen’s in Thompson, he enjoys spending time with his friends and following his favorite sports teams, the Red Sox and the Giants.
National Heart Health month is observed every February. It is a great chance to plan a visit to your primary care physician to talk about your blood pressure and any other symptoms that could lead to heart attack or stroke. If you need a primary care physician, the caring staff at DKH are accepting patients. To make your appointment, call 844-DKMG DOC (844-356-4362) or visit daykimball.org/booknow.
If you find yourself in need of cardiac rehabilitation, ask your provider to refer you to the Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Center located at Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam. Learn more by calling (860) 963-6315 or visiting daykimball.org/hearthealth.
PHOTO CAPTION: Carol Artiaco, RN and clinical coordinator, Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, Day Kimball Hospital and Reverend David Choquette celebrate his completion of the 12-week cardiac rehab program in the Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Center at Day Kimball Hospital.