Luis Flores Jr. was asleep on his sofa when he awoke with intense pressure in his chest “like someone who weighed 300 pounds was standing on me.” He couldn’t imagine what was causing the terrible pain. It couldn’t have been a heart attack. He was only 33.
He dialed 911. After a harried ambulance ride to the hospital and a battery of tests, doctors determined the pain was indeed a heart attack.
Flores, of Harlingen, Texas, was shocked by the diagnosis. He had always been in good health, somewhat overweight to be sure but he was strong. He never smoked and never drank, not even an occasional beer. There had been no known heart ailments among his family. He had never had heart trouble before. And he was so young.
“When I was in rehab for two months, I was like a little baby compared to the other people that were there,” he recalls.
No one could explain his heart attack, which doctors discovered was due to a blocked artery. A stent was surgically implanted to open the clogged passageway that had been the culprit. But the real source of his heart attack remained a mystery.
Until Flores, a project manager for an engineering firm, started snooping around on the Internet. He read about the problems that had occurred among patients who had taken Bextra, the prescription painkiller made by Pfizer Inc. that studies had linked to an increased incidence of heart attacks and strokes.
“I looked up and said, ‘Man, I was on that stuff!’” Flores had been taking Bextra for lower back pain for about a month when he had his heart attack on Aug. 5, 2004 (roughly eight months before Bextra was removed from the market).
It was, he decided, no coincidence.
“The doctors said I was lucky that I survived. The older you are the more vessels you develop to carry blood to the heart,” says Flores, noting his relatively youth for a heart attack victim. “I was lucky.”
But not as lucky as if he hadn’t had the heart attack at all. His life – and his attitude about it – has been permanently altered. Now Flores, who is single, must worry about the condition of his arteries and whether his heart will give out. How long will the stent last? Will he have another heart attack?
“Now it’s mostly the mental game,” he says, “I’m always feeling my chest. I don’t go out or nothing like that because I don’t know when I could have a heart attack again.”
Although Flores has been able to get back to work, he missed several months and no longer can put in the hours he used to. He sold the house he owned in San Antonio and cancelled the lease on his apartment to save the rent money.
When he suffered his heart attack he had just returned from a hard day’s work and had fallen asleep on his sofa while watching television. Now , he said, he has moved in with relatives and, “I sleep on my sister’s sofa.”