Peter Giordano is a lifelong ice hockey player who believes you never quit in the middle of a game, no matter what. So when his chest felt tight and he struggled for breath in the third period of a game one Saturday in October, the 47-year-old Giordano kept on playing. Even when both arms went numb, he kept on playing.
When the game ended, he dropped to his knees and collapsed in the middle of the rink. Within moments, while his teammates scrambled to get him off the ice and remove his gear, his heart stopped; his teammates saw his eyes roll behind his head and his lips turn blue.
Giordano was revived with a defibrillator kept at the Chestnut Hill rink, but he was still near death. His heart stopped once more before he was rushed to the OR at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, where Dr. Khalid Chaudhry and his interventional cardiology team performed an emergency heart catheterization to open a blocked coronary artery and implant a stent.
By the time Giordano’s teammates were able to get to the hospital from the rink, the procedure was over. By the time his wife arrived from North Jersey, where she’d been watching their teenage son play ice hockey, he was sitting up in bed in the cardiac care unit, talking to the nurses.
“It was amazing that I was alive and able to sit up and eat and talk to people and be coherent and really just have oxygen and some IV stuff, and that’s it, the same day,” he said. “They told me I had the ‘widow maker’, that most people don’t live through what I had,” said Giordano, effusively praising the nurses, doctors and others who took care of him so swiftly, competently and compassionately when his heart shut down.
A blockage in the left descending coronary artery is called the “widow maker” because of the low survival rate. Coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease, is the leading cause of death in the United States in men and women.
Giordano, who lives near Flemington, NJ, plays ice hockey twice a week with the men’s league. Although he had a family history of heart disease—Giordano’s father had triple bypass surgery and a heart transplant – he had no symptoms of coronary artery disease until he collapsed.
The only remaining evidence of Giordano’s close encounter with death less than a month ago is a bandage on his wrist. That’s where Einstein doctors threaded the catheter into the artery that had shut down and inserted the stent that saved his life.
He also experiences some fatigue. So, for now, he’s taking it easy, staying home, napping when he’s tired, looking forward to resuming his normal life.
“It’s a miracle,” he said. “They saved my life.”