Joondalup Health Campus
Part of Ramsay Health Care


Young dad narrowly escapes 'widow maker' heart attack

Apr 24, 2019

At only 38, the last thing Marangaroo father-of-two Hoa Van Nguyen thought he’d be doing was undergoing a procedure to ward off a major heart attack.

But that’s exactly what happened last month when he was diagnosed with a condition that, left untreated, would have led to one of the most deadly types of heart attack - what doctors call the ‘widow maker’.

Joondalup Health Campus Director of Cardiology Professor Jenny Deague said this type of heart attack occurs very suddenly when a key artery that carries blood to the heart gets partly or completely blocked.

“Without emergency treatment, the victim is unlikely to survive – hence the aptly named ‘widow maker’ heart attack,” she said. “We could see that Hoa’s heart was nearly 80 per cent blocked, so we had to intervene pretty swiftly.”

“My colleague Dr David Thomson, an interventional cardiology consultant, inserted two stents into Hoa’s heart in the hospital’s cath lab to clear the blockage and allow blood to flow normally.”

Professor Deague, who is also a board member for the National Heart Foundation, said it was a timely reminder in the lead up to Heart Week 2019.

“The symptoms of heart attack are many and varied – it’s not just about getting chest pains - people should get their heart health checked proactively and get any symptoms, however mild, checked out by a doctor.”

Professor Deague encouraged people to check out the Heart Foundations Heart Age calculator online and learn about what can be done to keep the heart ticking and healthy.

Hoa says his symptoms were not what he imagined a pending heart attack would feel like.

“It just felt like I had indigestion, especially after eating food,” he said. “I thought it was unusual for my age as I was only 38. Eventually, my wife got sick of me complaining about this burning sensation I was getting just above my belly button and pushed me to see the GP.”

“I don’t consider myself fit, but I’m not overweight and I don’t eat a lot of junk food - I’m pretty average – but I did get myself to the GP, who wanted me to have an ECG.”

The ECG – or electrocardiogram - is a medical test that detects heart problems by measuring the electrical activity generated by the heart as it contracts.

When his ECG came back abnormal, his GP wrote him up for some cholesterol medication, told him to start taking aspirin and gave him a referral to Professor Deague.

“I didn’t see Jenny straight away, because I thought I had up to a year to go see her – I hadn’t realised how serious things were,” Hoa said. “But when I went back to GP a month and a half later for something else and he found out that I’d not seen Jenny, he gave me a stern talking to!”

When Hoa did see Professor Deague, she insisted on a more advanced imaging test called a CT angiogram – and the results made her do a double-take: “We could see from that scan that there was a pretty big blockage which required immediate attention,” she said.

After the CT angiogram, Hoa said he has just left the hospital and was driving back to work, when Professor Deague called and asked him to come back.

“Jenny asked if I was still in the hospital and asked me to come back, saying she had a room booked for me and that I would need to have a procedure. I pulled over and was trying to calm myself down, then I called work to tell them I had to be admitted to hospital because of a heart problem.

“It was actually my first experience in hospital and I must say, you guys at Joondalup are amazing, everyone from the top down – were so good to me. Being here at the right time, right place and with right people saved me.

“They booked me for surgery the next day. Dr Dave Thomson was brilliant – the procedure took less than an hour and I was up and going home the next morning!”

I remember Dr Thomson saying to me: “You’re very lucky,” and also feeling a great sense of relief.

Hoa’s message to others is simple: If you have any signs, don’t think you’re invincible – get it checked.

“I still have a young family. My kids are young, I really want to spend time with them,” he said. “I am so grateful to have that opportunity now.”

Jenny’s top five tips for a healthy heart

  1. Don’t smoke
  2. On a regular basis, ask your GP to check your cholesterol and blood pressure – and talk to them about strategies to manage both
  3. Keep physically active
  4. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  5. Check out the Heart Foundation’s Heart Age Calculator on their website:

Heart Week runs 28 April-4 May