In the spring of 2017, Buffalo Grove Commercial Real Estate Broker Barry Millman had just finished eating a turkey sandwich and thought indigestion was the cause of his discomfort. After all, he was just sitting at his desk so it couldn’t be a heart attack. Or could it? Moments later, at his wife’s insistence following a phone call with him, he was in the hands of paramedics who brought him to Northwest Community Hospital (NCH) within what felt like seconds.
"The paramedic communication system did everything it was supposed to do in terms of a life-saving event," Barry says. "It was all kind of a blur."
Describing the events as “surreal,” Barry recalls three procedures that saved his life. First, he had an angioplasty (a balloon inserted to open an artery). Then a balloon pump was inserted to help his aorta continue working and reduce the workload of his heart. A couple days later, after his heart had rested sufficiently, he underwent coronary bypass surgery. Barry is thankful for the way NCH doctors and staff kept him calm and comfortable with very little pain.
"I felt like at times I was standing above everything watching while this happened,” Barry says. "Obviously, I just couldn't believe it was going on."
Up until this episode, Barry had been a picture of health. He ran five marathons, hadn’t eaten red meat in 20 years, and, in all other ways, had done everything in his power to avoid a heart attack.
"All you're thinking about is, 'This doesn't happen to me. It happens to other people,'" Barry says.
NCH Cardiologist Gilbert Sita, M.D. recalls that Barry's artery was 100 percent closed and his heart was only pumping at 40 percent efficiency.
"The hope was that with surgery, there would be an increased blood flow and we could get him to function better," Dr. Sita explains, adding that even when patients lower their cholesterol, eat right and exercise, they can still have blockage. "We don't have one cause for blocked arteries. Some people, like Barry, have no risk factors."
The good news? NCH has excellent treatment for blockages, including minimally invasive procedures, stents, ablation and more, using a multidisciplinary approach to care. Dr. Sita worked in tandem with Cardiovascular Surgeon David DeBoer, M.D., who performed Barry's bypass surgery.
"The heart is a very treatable organ," Dr. Sita says. "Now that we have better knowledge, people tend to do better for longer."
For Barry, physical rehabilitation was and continues to be part of his recovery. He also pays attention to salt intake and takes a beta blocker and antihypertensive. He visited the Atherton Heart Failure Clinic at NCH for follow-up visits, and continues to receive echocardiograms every six weeks to check on his heart's performance.
"Presumably, we opened up the artery early on, so we were able to limit the damage to the heart," Dr. Sita says. "He's doing well and not having any chest pain."
Barry used to work in hospital administration and understands how big hospitals operate. At NCH, he says, "I was not just a number. I was their primary concern. They explained everything they were about to do and what each portion of the procedures entailed, yet through the ordeal they were continually concerned for my comfort."
That's when Barry says he "learned the meaning of the word 'community' in the title, Northwest Community Hospital." He recalls Dr. Sita coming in at 1 in the morning prior to surgery to personally check on him and adjust his balloon pump for optimal comfort.
"It wasn't a physician's assistant or a resident," Barry says. "It was my board-certified cardiologist coming to make sure I was comfortable. They all made me feel special, like I was the only patient on the floor."
Barry says he's now feeling better than ever, pumped up and ready to compete in another race soon, possibly a 5K. He's been riding his bike about 40 miles on the weekend and walked 22,000 steps with his kids recently.
"I continue motivating myself to walk and bike as much as I can," Barry says. "Obviously, they saved my life and they gave me a good attitude and the incentive to get better a lot quicker."
Showing his gratitude, Barry became a donor for the NCH Foundation and recently spoke about his patient experience at the Foundation’s Annual Dinner. “NCH is a breath of fresh air as a hospital,” he says. “I want to continue to be involved with this hospital. It’s like a homecoming every time I come back.”
Learn more about the NCH Heart and Vascular Center. Find a cardiologist that's right for you.