Thomas P

Cath Lab Gets Runner Back on His Feet

When Thomas Piccoli, 62, woke up in the middle of the night with severe chest pain, he thought it was anxiety. Even with a family history of heart disease, it never occurred to Tom that his pain could be heart related - his family members didn’t take good care of themselves. Tom, on the other hand, never smoked, didn’t eat meat and had been a runner for nearly 50 years, completing a total of 10 to 12 miles each week.

After two hours, the pain moved into Tom’s jaw and down his arms, so he knew it was time to see a doctor. When Tom called 9-1-1, the emergency responder told him the ambulance would only take him to the nearest hospital, and it wasn’t an RWJBarnabas Health facility.

“I hung up the phone, and my spouse drove me 45 minutes to Monmouth Medical Center in a snowstorm,” says Tom, of Manasquan. “Even though people should never drive themselves to the hospital when they are having a heart attack, I work as the chief medical physicist and radiation safety officer at Monmouth Medical Center, so I know its cardiac program is one of the best around.”

Thomas Piccoli

When Tom arrived at the hospital, the cardiac team immediately completed an electrocardiogram. The test results determined he was experiencing a type of heart attack known as a STEMI or ST-elevation myocardial infraction, which is caused by a prolonged period of blocked blood supply that affects a large area of the heart. In order to prevent further damage to his heart, the Code STEMI team, led by Monmouth Medical Center cardiologist Jason Litsky, DO, immediately moved Tom to the catheterization lab to place a stent and open the blocked artery.

“My left anterior descending artery was completely blocked,” says Tom. “The surgery was a weird experience. Since I’ve worked at Monmouth Medical Center for 25 years, I felt like I knew too much. The Cath team was using equipment I calibrate and using terms I hear every day at work. But I knew these doctors are the best in the business, so I felt very comfortable.”

After three stents, Tom’s artery was finally opened, but there was residual damage done to the heart because he waited too long to seek medical care. His heartbeat was irregular, and his ejection fraction, which determines how well your heart is functioning, was only at 28 percent when the normal is between 50 and 60 percent.

Tom enrolled in Monmouth Medical Center’s cardiac rehabilitation program and after 12 weeks, his ejection fraction rose to 60 percent, and he was cleared to go back to work, go to the gym and start running again.

“I’m back to my active lifestyle, and I’ve been running up to six miles a week with no shortness of breath,” says Tom. “I can’t thank the Cath lab team enough for getting me back on my feet. They were amazing, and I wouldn’t want to go anywhere other than Monmouth Medical Center for heart conditions. They are the reason I am still alive, and I am very grateful.”