2013 was a bad year for Tommy Ailstock. He lost his mother, brother, and father in a series of unexpected deaths that took a toll on the health of the 59-year-old electrician. He had been on medications since 2006 to treat a low ejection fraction - the percentage of blood leaving your heart each time it contracts. But his new doctor, Carey Dellock, MD an interventional cardiologist with Capital Regional Cardiology Associates, wanted to keep a closer eye on him to make sure the stress he was experiencing didn’t make things worse.
Then one evening in late December, Tommy and his wife Lisa decided to take a bicycle ride. "He couldn’t make it to the end of the street," said Lisa. "He got very winded and we knew something was wrong." The couple immediately set up an appointment with Dr. Dellock and an EKG showed that Tommy was in atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rate that causes poor blood flow to the body.
Dr. Dellock ordered a stress test and echocardiogram to better determine what was happening with Tommy’s heart. Those tests, performed January 10, showed a diminished ejection fraction of 25%, a very dangerous level of blood flow. With those results in hand, Dr. Dellock took Tommy to the cardiac catheterization lab at Capital Regional Medical Center. The diagnostic catheterization showed a 75% blockage in his main artery.
"I remember Dr. Dellock and the surgeon coming into the room and the surgeon telling me, ’sir, you have a bad heart and it needs to be fixed.’ I wanted to go home, but he really wanted me to understand how bad it was. I had what they call a ’widow maker’ and needed bypass surgery right away," said Tommy. He was taken directly from the cath lab to the Cardiovascular ICU for the night and was in the operating room the next morning.
Tommy says his experience at The Heart & Vascular Center at Capital Regional Medical Center was amazing. "The staff treated me like I was gold," he said. "From the time I arrived, they took incredible care of me. They didn’t let me be in pain and that was very important. They cared for me and comforted me. I’ve told everybody I know how good the care was."
His praise for Dr. Dellock is based on an almost star-struck kind of admiration. "She’s so good. I look up to her and I know that it is because of her that I’m alive today. She’ll always be my doctor. She’s just tremendous in the care she gives."
Tommy’s treatment journey continued through 2014 with the implant of a pacemaker. Now, life is great. "I have energy, I feel really good," said Tommy. "You wouldn’t believe how much better you feel when your heart is pumping correctly."
Tommy has advice for others who may have heart disease. "People don’t want to go to the doctor, but they should go get checked. I ignored how I felt and I could have died. I’m grateful to Dr. Dellock and the entire team at Capital Regional Medical Center. I owe them my life."