He’d been up late the night before, but he wanted to get a healthy start with some exercise. It was Labor Day weekend, and he was going with friends to watch the Oregon State vs. Portland State football game in Corvallis.
Payne, 39, lives with his girlfriend Anna Gradek in McMinnville, where he teaches middle school PE and coaches track for Linfield College.
“You look tired,” Gradek said after they finished working out.
“I am tired,” he replied.
In retrospect, it was a small clue in a progression of signs that day leading to a decision that would ultimately save his life. Inside his heart, a buildup of plaque narrowed the vessel, making it harder to pump blood and deliver oxygen. Soon, the plaque would dislodge, rupture and became a clot that would completely block the blood supply to his heart. But that morning, he only knew he had a game to get ready for.
When they arrived at Reser Stadium for a 1 p.m. kickoff, Payne felt lethargic, but nothing too alarming. He didn’t say anything to his friends. The game was closer than expected, but the Beavers opened up a lead in the third quarter. With about seven minutes remaining, the win seemed secure and the friends decided to leave early to beat traffic. As he turned to leave from the club level seating three stories up, a queasy feeling hit Payne.
“I think I might have overdressed for the weather,” he said.
Or maybe it was something he ate.
They had driven to the game in Payne’s truck. But when they reached Parker Plaza below, he told his friends he didn’t feel well enough to drive, or to go out to eat as they had planned.
“What do you want to do?” they asked. “I think I’ve got heartburn,” Payne said. “Let’s go get some Rolaids or Tums.”
Payne hadn’t eaten anything out of the ordinary, and he had never experienced heartburn before. Still they drove to the store and bought every over-the-counter heartburn relief available. The discomfort persisted. Payne called Gradek. As she listened to his voice over the phone, she could tell something was wrong.
“Go to the hospital,” she said.
That’s when all the subtle clues came together. Recently, he experienced a racing and pounding of his heart, and he’d gone to see the doctor who did an EKG and blood test. His doctor was concerned it could be a serious condition, but test results were normal. The fact that he’d had his heart checked the week before had kept him calm until now. No one had said the words heart attack yet. But as they drove up Ninth Street toward Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center, Payne wondered, “Could it be?”
An EKG revealed that Payne was experiencing a heart attack caused by a critical blockage of blood supply in the heart.
Each year, nearly 250,000 people experience this kind of heart attack, which carries a substantial risk of death and disability. Luckily, Payne was at the hospital and his medical team could respond quickly.
Samaritan Heart & Vascular Institute Cardiologist Timothy Atha, MD, was able to clear the blockage by placing a stent, a tiny wire mesh tube, to allow blood to flow again and reduce the damage to his heart. Chest pain is the most recognizable sign of a heart attack, but pain is a subjective experience. Many people make the mistake of not seeking medical attention right away because they expect a heart attack to feel more severe, he said.
“The take-home message is when in doubt, check it out,” Atha said. “The earlier we can open an artery, the more heart muscle we can save.”
The symptoms he experienced were not what he expected for a heart attack.
“It was absolutely nothing like you see on TV,” Payne said.
So it would have been easy to brush aside the warnings before it was too late.
Payne said he is grateful that his friends brought him to the hospital and for the Emergency Department staff who quickly recognized the signs of a heart attack and started treatment without delay.
After four days in the hospital, and about a month off work to rehabilitate and recover, Payne is back teaching and coaching, and his doctor is pleased with his progress. He’s been exercising more and continues to lose weight.
“Everything has been very positive,” Payne said. “I’m going to keep trying to get healthier.”
Heart attack: Know the symptomsChest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest. The discomfort usually lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. It also can feel like heartburn or indigestion. The feeling can be mild or severe.
Upper body discomfort. You may feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw or upper part of the stomach (above the belly button).
Shortness of breath. This may be your only symptom, or it may occur before or along with chest pain or discomfort. It can occur when you are resting or doing activity.
Some people have few symptoms and are unaware that they’ve had a heart attack. People who have diabetes may have no symptoms, or very mild ones. Women are more likely to have shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, unusual tiredness (sometimes for days) and pain in the back, shoulders and jaw. Men are more likely to break out in a cold sweat, and have pain move down the left arm.
If you or someone near you is experiencing symptoms that might be a heart attack, call 911 immediately.
Samaritan Heart & Vascular Institute provides a wide range of advanced cardiology, cardiovascular surgery, cardiothoracic surgery and electrophysiology services, with clinics in Albany, Corvallis, Lebanon, Lincoln City and Newport, and also serves patients from Eugene, Salem and neighboring areas.