For two local men, listening to their hearts has taken on a new and life-changing meaning.
Bill Goldsworthy, of West Pittston, and Anthony Conyers, of Wilkes-Barre, experienced symptoms resulting from heart disease in 2015, and both men are living better, more active lifestyles due to procedures performed at General Hospital in Wilkes-Barre.
Goldsworthy, 62, said he became aware of minor heart blockages in 2007 when difficulty breathing and trouble navigating stairs without immediate fatigue brought him to his doctor.
Medication and an increase in physical activity improved his condition, and Goldsworthy began seeing his doctor every six months to monitor his well-being.
“I felt good,” Goldsworthy said.
But in the summer of 2015, he began experiencing new symptoms.
“We had a picnic in the yard, and I ate hot peppers, which I love,” Goldsworthy said. “I woke up in the middle of the night with terrible pain.”
Assuming he had indigestion, Goldsworthy sat up rubbing his chest, and the pain subsided.
Symptoms reoccurred later in the week, but he couldn’t attribute the pain to diet.
“I thought, ‘I’ve never had pain like this,’” Goldsworthy said.
Five days later, Goldsworthy was on a business trip to Allentown when he began shaking, losing his balance and experiencing weakness and changes in body temperature.
When he returned home, his daughter, a nurse, convinced him to go directly to the emergency room, and Goldsworthy was admitted under the care of Dr. Rupen Parikh.
The diagnoses was an 85 percent blockage of the left anterior descending artery, commonly called the widow-maker because of how frequently full blockage leads to death, and Parikh placed a stent in the artery two days later.
Goldsworthy also found out his temperature swings were due to a returning case of diverticulitis, which coincidentally acted up at the same time as his heart.
“It was divine intervention, I think,” Goldsworthy said.
Goldsworthy was home the day after surgery, made a full recovery, and now exercises five days a week and maintains a healthier diet. He said he now stresses to people the importance of recognizing symptoms of heart disease and visiting a doctor regularly.
“The first things I think about are my kids and grandkids,” Goldsworthy said. “My new motto is ‘take care of yourself so you can take care of others.’”
Anthony Conyers, 50, experienced a heart condition of a different kind that same summer.
Conyers said he had a short-lived but intense virus that weakened two of his heart valves.
“I felt terrible,” he said. “I’d walk a short distance and I’d be exhausted. I gained 45 pounds, and every time I would lie down, I would have an anxiety attack.”
After comparing symptoms with a friend who suffers from heart disease, Conyers decided to go to General Hospital in June of 2015.
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” Conyers said.
Dr. Steven W. Marra diagnosed Conyers with two severely leaky heart valves, which Conyers discovered were also leading to his weight gain and anxiety attacks.
“I had so much water on my lungs that when I would lie down, I was drowning,” Conyers said. “I wasn’t getting enough oxygen.”
Marra repaired Conyers’ mitral and tricuspid valves and installed an annuloplasty ring to combat leakiness.
After spending the month of July in the hospital recovering, Conyers regained his quality of life.
“He did very well post operatively,” Marra said. “Echocardiogram studies showed both valves are doing very well.”
Conyers said he is back to doing “just about everything” he was able to do prior to having symptoms.
“I go to the river almost every weekend,” Conyers said. “I have a fifth-wheel trailer outside of Tunkhannock, and I like to fish there and sit around a fire.”
Marra said patients with weakened heart valves should seek out surgeons experienced in valve repair.
“If you can get your valve repaired, you want to have it repaired instead of replaced,” Marra said. “Patients tend to do better in the clinical setting.”
Marra said heart patients need to keep in mind that heart disease can be ongoing and a change in lifestyle is vital to post-operative life.
Conyers has quit smoking and realizes he’s been fortunate.
“Dr. Marra is number one in my book,” Conyers said. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.