Heart disease survivor Paul King


‘I’ve been given a second chance’

Paul King didn’t think much about heart disease, until a shocking diagnosis changed his life

Chapter 1 Something’s not right

After open heart surgery in May 2021, Paul King woke up to surprising news in the intensive care unit at St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener, Ont. His operation had taken seven hours — three more than planned. And his surgeon told him the team did a total of seven bypasses to fix his blocked arteries.

“Is that a record?” Paul asked, stunned.

Not only did the diagnosis — and severity — of his heart disease shock Paul, a 58-year-old software sales and marketing consultant from Owen Sound, Ont. But the COVID-19 pandemic made for uncertainty and extra challenges during his diagnosis and treatment.

It was November 2020 when Paul first suspected something was wrong. He got more winded than usual during his weekly hockey game. Then, on a hike with his wife, Susan, he felt tightness in his chest and pain in one arm after climbing a hill. “I got out my phone and started Googling,” he recalls.

He made an appointment with his doctor, who ran blood tests and booked him for a stress test. That revealed possible problems with his heart. Waiting for a second stress test, Paul wasn’t overly worried. “I expected to rock the treadmill and get sent home with maybe a prescription.”

Thanks to a cancellation, he got the test in two weeks instead of the scheduled two months. Suddenly it was clear Paul would need more than a prescription.

Paul King in a hospital gown showing an incision on his chest from open heart surgery.

Recovering after his surgery, Paul was scared of the pandemic risk every day he was in hospital.

Paul King sits on a chair outdoors, with a pillow on his lap.

Paul’s initial recovery was rough, but he was able to go home after following the medical team’s advice.

Paul King smiles with his wife and three grown children in a forest.

Paul with his family. By late summer he had resumed hiking and cycling.

Chapter 2 A shocking diagnosis

In March, an angiogram showed a few serious blockages in the arteries to Paul’s heart — including the left anterior descending artery or LAD. He would need bypass surgery. And only then would the full extent of his blockages become clear.

Paul learned the LAD is sometimes called the “widowmaker” because blockages in that artery can lead to fatal heart attacks or permanent damage. “I was flabbergasted and shocked,” he recalls. He had been playing hockey just a week before.

Like Paul, his hockey pals had given little thought to heart disease. They didn’t understand what a bypass was or how much family history played a role in heart disease. Paul’s uncle had died young from heart disease, which he’d never thought about before.

Now he could think about little else. His daughter Chelsea, middle of his three children, had recently become engaged. He wanted to be there to walk her down the aisle.

As the wait for surgery dragged on, he checked messages constantly and wondered if a heart attack would happen before the operation. Ontario was in the third wave of the pandemic and his procedure got rescheduled three times.

Finally, in mid-May, he got a call: “Can you come tomorrow?”

Chapter 3 Bypass and beyond

Paul checked into the hospital while Susan waited at a nearby hotel — increasingly anxious for news as the hours went by. Finally out of surgery, Paul was wheeled to a makeshift ICU for recovery, since the cardiac ICU had been taken over for COVID patients.

There’s an education that needs to happen for my demographic.
Paul King

Paul’s initial recovery was rough, and he needed blood transfusions. He felt scared every day because of the pandemic risk around him. While he received excellent care in the hospital, he saw how overworked the staff was; his nurse the first day in ICU was doing an extra shift on his day off.

Paul focused on doing exactly what his medical team told him, and soon he was able to go home.

As he recovered over the summer, Paul started walking and feeling better. He was diligent doing the exercises prescribed by his medical team. But once again, COVID-19 meant he had to wait, this time for access to a cardiac rehabilitation program.

By late summer Paul had resumed hiking and cycling and was looking forward to his daughter’s wedding. Finally, in late September, he started a 12-week virtual cardiac rehab program.

He’s trying to spread the word about heart disease to other men. “There’s an education that needs to happen for my demographic. I’m shocked at how many guys I’ve talked to who want to know about the symptoms and everything.”

He’s grateful for the care that saved him from having a heart attack — especially during a time when the health system was overburdened.

“I feel like I’ve been given a second chance. It’s just pure serendipity that I’m all fixed up and better than new.”