TAMPA - Jeff Hoschak works sales for Pepin Distributing in Tampa. The 38-year-old father of 3 walks his with bosses Tom and J Paul Pepin, explaining how lucky he is to be alive. "The main symptom I had was walking up the stairs, going to the slides and just having real bad jaw pain. Having pain going right up through my ear."
He thought it was pain from a wisdom tooth. But his wife Elaine insisted he go see the family doctor.
A stress test and a visit to the cath lab followed. Doctors at Pepin Heart Hospital said he was on his way to a heart attack and had to insert stents to open two blockages in his heart.
That was last summer. "Then here comes New Years Eve,” his wife says. “He calls me and says something is wrong."
Jeff says, “I was driving home and I had a real bad headache. The jaw pain came back again and I started vomiting and getting sick."
At the hospital, doctors told Jeff and Elaine, "'You're going to have open heart surgery.' We're looking around thinking this is something our grandparents deal with, our parents deal with in their 70's. He's 38 years old. Surely it's a mistake. He said, "No the blockages are too much."
Elaine said she was "terrified. Jeff and I have been together for a very, very long time so the thought of him not being around to raise his children or for us to grow old together was terrible."
Now three weeks out of open heart surgery, Jeff wishes he had paid more attention to the red flags along the way. The first being his family history.
His father passed away from heart disease at 47. He was diagnosed with high blood pressure at a young age and now his 16-year-old son is battling high blood pressure.
As for the other red-flag symptoms for heart problems he didn't recognize, like the jaw pain? Doctor Scott Bronleewe, a heart doctor at Pepin Heart Hospital, says "The most typical presentation is chest pain, like pressure as if an elephant is sitting on your chest. It may be accompanied by shortness of breath." But sweating, arm, neck and jaw pain are also common, as is vomiting.
The greatest lesson he learned from this experience? "Don't be stubborn. You know us guys, we're stubborn about everything. But you can’t be stubborn about your health. You only get one chance. I think this was my one chance."
There is one more lesson Jeff wants to pass on: If you think you're having heart problems, call 911 and go to the hospital by ambulance. He had his son drive him to the hospital. Lucky for the family, they spotted an ambulance at a store along they way and those paramedics stared treating Jeff on the way to the hospital.
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The Consumer Product Safety Commission says holiday injuries are increasing, with more than 13 thousand people treated during the 2010 holiday season. We're taking action for your health tonight at 5, with a holiday safety check list.