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American Heart Month: Heart disease doesn't always have symptoms

The Lohenitzs have been married for 33 years. So when Mike’s energy levels began to flag, Linda was the first to notice.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — At 78, Mike Lohenitz still lives an active life. He walks a mile and a half and does 50 pushups every day. As recently as the fall, he was scuba diving in Cozumel with his wife, Linda.

The Lohenitzs have been married for 33 years. So when Mike’s energy levels began to flag, she was the first to notice.

“He said, ‘I just don’t feel like doing anything. I’m turning into a couch potato. Is this what I’m going to be like because I’m getting older?’ And I knew better,” she said. “I knew better. Something wasn’t right.”

She took Mike in for a checkup.

“The doctor came in and said, ‘One side of your heat isn’t pumping right.’ Well, that doesn’t sound good,” Mike said.

After getting a cardiac catheterization, doctors informed Mike that three of the five arteries feeding blood to his heart were blocked. He needed a triple bypass open heart surgery.

The surgeon who performed the procedure, Dr. Reza Abrishamchian of UPMC Harrisburg, said Mike’s surgery was unusually short because of his high fitness level. Still, recovery and rehabilitation took several months.

“Open heart surgery is not a haircut,” said Dr. Abrishamchian, adding that Mike also maintains a heart-healthy diet low in saturated fats. Mike’s heart disease was likely caused by genetics, he said.

Each year about 659,000 Americans die from heart disease. Conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes and lifestyle factors, like an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity and smoking can raise the risk of developing heart disease.

Dr. Abrishamchian said it’s important to monitor yourself for unexpected changes in things like energy level and sleep patterns, as heart disease doesn’t always cause the hallmark symptoms.

“Actually it’s not uncommon to present with no symptoms,” he said. “Patients who have heart disease, not all must present with the usual, traditional presentation which is chest pain, left arm pain, jaw pain, neck pain.”

Six months after the surgery, Mike’s fatigue is gone. He credited his wife with being proactive about his health.

“That was Linda. She was saying you gotta go to the doctor. That was obvious,” he said.

“We joke,” Linda added. “He always tells people he’s alive because of me. Now I’m going to say that’s correct.”

The couple hopes to go scuba diving again soon.

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