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Fifty-one-year-old Dan Carter was eager to unwind for the evening and enjoy a good night’s sleep after working a particularly hard, long day in 2003.

An industrial ammonia refrigeration technician for a local pharmaceutical company, Dan smoked a pack of cigarettes per day, sometimes a little more — but thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous, he was a recovering alcoholic for 21 years.

“So, here I am,” Dan says, “a recovering alcoholic, smoker.”

A Strange Night

As he lay in bed next to his wife that night, Dan began to sweat profusely, and his heart beat a little faster than normal. Soon, it also became difficult for him to breathe. His chest was heavier, and he felt a sharp pain come and go in the back of his neck.

“These feelings and symptoms stayed with me for what seemed about 20 minutes. Then, everything returned to normal and eventually, I fell asleep.”

Life in Slow Motion

When Dan awoke the following morning, he felt as if he were moving in slow motion. Despite this, he dressed and headed to work, willing his heavy legs to keep moving forward. Lethargic, as they day continued, he became utterly exhausted.

Dan says, “I guess basically, I felt heavy, like something was holding me back from doing my work in an efficient manner. Nevertheless, I did the best I could at work and finished the day. I do remember that I looked forward to going home that day. This is something I have never felt before. I am not a ‘clock watcher’ at work, but, that day and the work days that followed I felt differently though I completed the work week.”

A Surprising Diagnosis

The following week, Dan was scheduled for his annual physical with his primary care physician who conducted the normal testing which included an electrocardiogram (EKG). Dan withheld the details of his recent experience, fearing the physician would investigate.

Dan says, “My concern was that he may order additional testing which would mean more time and more effort on my part. Well, turns out, that wasn’t an issue. Instead, at the conclusion of the appointment, he said, ‘Dan, you have had a heart attack.’ Immediately, my response was, ‘No, I have not,’ but he was certain and replied, ‘Yes, you did.'”

The provider explained that Dan’s EKG had changed since the prior year, revealing that he’d had a heart attack. At that point, Dan revealed his experience the evening of the prior week. With this confirmation, his primary care provider immediately referred Dan to a cardiologist. Two days later, he was scheduled for a cardiac catheterization.

Dan says, “How is that for someone watching over me?”

Following the catheterization, Dan was informed that he had a 100% blockage of one artery on the left side of his heart, so he was prescribed a series of medications meant to treat his condition. Dan dutifully followed the medication regimen. Follow up included bi-annual visits to a cardiologist to monitor his progress and to make certain that he had no issues with the medication.

Medication Management and Hope Deferred

“This is the road I traveled for nearly 19 years,” says Dan. “All the while, I was aging and getting more tired by the day. It became very difficult to work a full day, to cut the grass, to work on the car and to even relax.”

Dan continued to see this cardiologist until this physician retired in 2014.

Day says, “One thing he did for me is help me stop smoking. He told me my lungs looked terrible, and so I white knuckled it haven’t smoked since June 2014.”

Then, Dan was referred to another provider who continued to carefully monitor his condition, utilizing intermittent EKGs and annual checks. When this cardiologist retired in 2021, Dan was referred to interventional cardiologist, Dr. Saroj Neupane, at the WakeMed Heart Center.

WakeMed Heart Center’s Talented General and Interventional Cardiologist Steps In

Dan says, “My retiring cardiologist told me that Dr. Neupane was talented, skilled with catheterizations and had stayed abreast of rather recent medical advances in the field.”

In February 2022, he met with Dr. Neupane and was scheduled for a nuclear stress test.

From that point forward with the support of Heart & Vascular patient navigator, Mary Fonalledas, who helped Dan better access and navigate the system, he began a journey back to wellness. Mary was Dan’s main point of contact for all communications through WakeMed MyChart. The heartbeat of the program, she was also a familiar and friendly face for Dan each time he came for an appointment.

Dan says, “I explained to Mary and Dr. Neupane that it was very difficult to walk more than 100 yards without resting or to cut the grass at my house or for that matter, even walk in the grocery store without becoming extremely tired.”

In May 2022, Dr. Neupane performed a procedure to place stents in the blocked artery to restore blood flow in the artery that had a 100% blockage for 19+ years. He then followed this with a second procedure to open another blocked vessel.

“When I came out of that first procedure, I could breathe easier, cut my grass without needing to rest, walk to my car — no matter how far away it was — and even go shopping with my wife at the grocery store. The second procedure made all these tasks even easier. Heartfelt thanks to Dr. Neupane and the WakeMed Heart & Vascular highly professional staff; I can now lead a relatively normal life. I no longer have intermittent chest pains, no loss of breath and most of all, my work patterns have once again become normal. Today, I enjoy life with no hold backs.”

Tearing up, Dan reflects on the life-saving care he received.

“It was by the grace of God, that I was assigned to Dr. Neupane, and I am firmly convinced that without this doctor and his care team, looking out for my condition, I may not even be here. I cannot thank them enough. They have given me back a meaningful life.”

About Dr. Saroj Neupane

Dr. Saroj Neupane leads WakeMed Heart & Vascular’s program for Complex Higher-risk & Indicated Patients (CHIP) with the goal of helping patients with complex coronary artery disease and chronic total occlusions (CTO). CTOs are a complete blockage of a coronary artery resulting from years of plaque build-up that hardens over time. Typically, people with CTOs are treated with medications or coronary artery bypass graft surgery (open-heart surgery). With advancements in technology and advanced training skills, it is now possible to recanalize these completely blocked arteries with balloons and stents and provide much needed relief.

About WakeMed Heart & Vascular

WakeMed Heart & Vascular physicians bring together expert cardiovascular, thoracic and vascular surgeons who are dedicated to delivering the highest level of cardiovascular care in Raleigh, Apex, Cary, Fuquay-Varina, Garner and Clayton, N.C. For decades, these physicians have chosen to bring their talent and expertise to WakeMed for its reputation for excellence in cardiovascular care and commitment to providing the most exceptional patient experience.

About the WakeMed Foundation

In recent years, the WakeMed Foundation has funded many projects for Heart & Vascular. These include the following:

  • Ongoing education support for employees to attend undergraduate or graduate programs, conferences trainings, seminars or prep for certification exams.
  • Heart and Vascular Mobile Nuclear Medicine Unit at $500,000.
  • Patient Navigator for Heart & Vascular patients at $80,000.
  • Blood Pressure Matters education and cuffs for home health and Heart & Vascular patients over the years $10,000+.

About Quit With WakeMed

Quit With WakeMed is a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary program designed to help individuals quit tobacco for good. Our team will provide the tools, therapies and support patient’s need to be successful. Our approach has been proven to be approximately 10 times more effective than quitting independently.

Whether a patient wants more information, hopes to reduce use of tobacco, or wants to quit altogether — our team is here to help. To learn more, call 919-350-QUIT (7848), or schedule an appointment online through WakeMed MyChart.

Do you want to help bring more innovative care to WakeMed? Donate to the WakeMed Foundation.

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WakeMed Heart & Vascular