Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Heart Patients Plan to Walk in Gratitude for Their Treatment; Both Responded to Warning Signs in Nick of Time

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Heart Patients Plan to Walk in Gratitude for Their Treatment; Both Responded to Warning Signs in Nick of Time

Article excerpt

Byline: Charlie Patton

When 58-year-old Bob Willen and his Eagle Harbor neighbor Bill McFarland, 63, walk the 9.3-mile Gate River Run on Saturday, they will be expressing gratitude to caregivers who saved their lives and making a statement about the need for people to pay attention to warning signs that something is wrong with their bodies.

Willen began feeling sick the day before last Thanksgiving. Plagued by heartburn and nausea, he couldn't sleep. But Willen, who retired as a Navy commander after 32 years of active service, "figured I'd power through it," he said.

By the night of Sunday, Nov. 30, he was having second thoughts about that. The pain in his chest had him doubled over as his wife drove him to the emergency room at Baptist Clay Medical Campus, where it was quickly determined he was having a heart attack.

From there he was taken to Baptist Heart Hospital at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville.

Interventional cardiologist Russell Stapleton, director of heart failure services for Baptist Heart Specialists, placed a stent, a small mesh tube, in an artery that was 99 percent blocked. Two weeks later, Stapleton placed a second stent in the other artery, which was 70 percent blocked.

Willen, who still works full time at Jacksonville Naval Air Station, where he is employed by a defense contractor, said he had been experiencing symptoms that should have alerted him to issues with his heart for a year before his heart attack.

"When I played tennis I'd get winded really quick," he said.

His account of his stubborn refusal to pay attention to his symptoms, nearly costing him his life, made a big impression on McFarland, with whom Willen regularly plays tennis.

On Jan. 20, McFarland, a retired Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent, woke at 4 a.m. with a tingling in his left arm and a slight pain in his chest. He took an aspirin, got back in bed and tried to go back to sleep. But the pain in his chest was growing and he began feeling like an elephant was sitting on his chest. …

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