My Heart Attack and Bypass Surgery

Attorney Dan Surprenant

For those of you who have not heard, on January 5th, 2020 I suffered a heart attack which landed me in Charlton Memorial Hospital.  On January 8th, as my blockage was too severe to handle with stents, I underwent quadruple bypass surgery.  I’m 50 years old.  I thought it important to take a moment to write about my experience and what it means to me.

First, a little detail about what happened.  It was a Sunday morning and I was playing tennis (actually “paddle tennis” which is essentially tennis on a small court, outdoors, in a cage).  In recent years I’ve been playing paddle pretty regularly.  During our second set, I felt increasing tightness in my chest, enough to stop before the next set.  It did subside a bit and I was able to drive the two minutes to my home.  When it did not go away, my wife, Kate, and I decided we’d better head to Charlton Memorial Hospital, where they specialize in cardiac issues.  (In retrospect, if this happens to you, you might want to call 911.)  To make matters worse, when we entered the on-ramp for Route 195, traffic was completely stopped due to a memorial service.  Kate drove on the grass and explained to the state trooper that we were headed to the ER.  Thankfully, we were then the only car on the highway.  As the chest pain was increasing and becoming severe, we decided to head to the closer St. Luke’s Hospital.  I was there for only about 10 minutes as they managed my pain with medicine (I believe heparin and nitroglycerine) and transported me immediately by ambulance to Charlton.  The interventional surgeon there inserted a balloon in my heart to help it pump and heal while I awaited surgery a few days later. 

On January 8th, a wonderful and experienced cardiac surgeon performed quadruple bypass surgery, harvesting a vein from my leg to do so. The last thing I remember while lying on the operating table was Dr. G shaking my hand reassuringly and saying, “You’re going to be fine.”  When I awoke from surgery, I was like a baby in that I could do almost nothing for myself.  I was necessarily on oxycodone, which I did not love.  It was necessary to manage my pain but left me groggy and gave me strange dreams.  That first night I slept in 15-minute increments.  The next day, they had me walking, although gingerly with baby steps.  I was fragile and in some pain.  The nurses at Charlton were incredible.  They were kind, attentive and very informative.  By the third day, the team was removing several tubes from my chest.  By the fifth day, I was headed home.  I’d never been so happy to be home, to shower and to shave.    

Let me say that prior to this incident, I was in decent but not wonderful shape.  My father had quadruple bypass surgery at age 65, so I knew I was genetically predisposed to blockage, but certainly did not think I had to worry about it just yet, at age 50.  In hindsight, which is always 20/20, I did feel occasional and mild tightness in my chest when doing cardiovascular exercise.  I shrugged it off, thinking that this is how one feels when they are somewhat out of shape and 50.  If you’re in similar circumstances, don’t shrug it off.  Stress every detail to your doctor and take it seriously.

After several weeks of recuperation and physical therapy, I returned back to work on Monday, February 10th, but only for half days and only three days a week until I fully regain my strength.  The whole incident has reinforced what I knew on some level: Life is fragile and we are not guaranteed any more days.  I’ve heard it before, but now more strongly feel that we must appreciate each day, each person, each blessing that we have.

This crisis has also reinforced my passion for my job.  We all want to have meaningful work.  We all want to feel like what we do is helpful to others.  I feel that way, strongly, and am thankful for the opportunity.  For instance, on any given day, our firm guides clients through a complex and overwhelming Medicaid system during a loved-one’s health crisis.  We regularly help parents protect assets for their children, who may have issues such as divorce, drug addiction, or special needs issues, to name a few.  It occurs to me to stop there, as I don’t want this article to sound like an advertisement.  I do, however, want to make the point that I see meaning in helping families through complex legal issues and am very grateful for the opportunity each day.   

I appreciate all of the loving support, first from my wife, Kate, as well as from many, many friends, family and clients along the way.  I also appreciate my trusted team here at S&B, who have dutifully kept the ship sailing in my absence and for their dedication to client service. 

Lastly, as life is unpredictable, I’d be remiss (as an estate planning attorney and heart attack victim) if I didn’t stress the importance of good planning.  These are not just words.  Please think about planning to avoid unnecessary heartache, costs, tax and delay in the event of a crisis.  Are your important documents in place to avoid things like probate court, estate taxes, special needs related medical bills or divorce?  Enough said.  

I’m grateful to have survived this scare and look forward to a long and healthy life.  Thank you for listening and I look forward to seeing all of you out and about!