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February is Heart Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness for cardiovascular health as well as the risk factors and warning signs of cardiac events. Although heart disease remains the second leading cause of death for Canadians, COVID-19 continues to cause people to avoid seeking medical attention — even in emergency situations.
Patrick Parry’s fear of contracting COVID-19 initially prevented him from going to the hospital last April when he began feeling what he believed to be heartburn.
“I woke up, and I came downstairs by myself. I just wasn't feeling right,” Parry said in an interview with TODAY to celebrate the start of Heart Month. “I didn't feel terrible, (but) I wasn't feeling right.”
The now 52-year-old lawyer believed he was in good health; he was active and occasionally refereed college football games. However, his wife Melissa, a school nurse was concerned.
“Melissa asked me to rate my pain and I rated it a four on a scale of one to 10,” Parry said “And then after that we talked about going to the hospital, and I was resistant, partly because of the COVID situation. I did not want to go to the hospital and expose myself to the COVID that was running rampant at the time, and then bring it home to a house full of people.”
The fear of contracting COVID-19 from hospitals caused emergency rooms around the world to report significantly less visitors in 2020. In Canada, emergency rooms saw 50 per cent less people in April 2020 alone, and between March and June of last year, there was a 17-21 per cent decline in life-saving and urgent surgeries were performed (bypass, pacemaker installations, cancer-related surgeries).
Although COVID-19 numbers have forced many people into lockdown, recognizing the signs and symptoms of a cardiac event and calling 911 as soon as possible is the best course of action — pandemic or not.
While chest pain is one of the most well known indicators of a cardiac event for both men and women, shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, heartburn, lightheadedness as well as back and jaw pain are also common symptoms of a heart attack. Many people are likely to chalk up symptoms of a heart attack to the flu or acid reflux, and may think that because the symptoms are subtle, they’re not indicative of a heart attack or cardiac event.
Although he believed he was experiencing heartburn, Parry was actually suffering a massive heart attack. Hours later, his wife found him unconscious and performed CPR while she waited for help to arrive.
“It was horrific, but you kind of just go through the motions,” Melissa said. “I just kept telling him this isn't our story. This isn't how our story is going to go.”
Parry required a lengthy hospitalization and spent a month unconscious. In total, he received five stents and went into cardiac arrest twice. Doctors told TODAY that Parry’s chances for survival were “dismal” and that he’s lucky to be alive.
Now, Parry is encouraging people everywhere not to let fear of hospitals during the pandemic prevent them from seeking help.
“I did not make the correct decision,” he said of initially avoiding the hospital. “I think I rationalized reasons not to go to the hospital. One of the major one was the fear of COVID. I would tell folks that COVID is out there, and we should all be very cautious, but by avoiding going to the hospital because of COVID, I spent two months in the hospital with other folks that had COVID. So my advice would be to leave COVID out of the equation when it comes to your decisions to seek treatment.”