'Thanks for saving my life': Heart Disease No. 1 Cause of Death in Quad-Cities Region

Dr. Coyne treats Mark Briggs, patient at CVAUSA's partner practice, CVM.



Davenport resident Mark Briggs always greets his cardiologist the same way.

"Thanks for saving my life," Briggs told Ed Coyne, a cardiologist and president of Cardiovascular Medicine, at a recent appointment.

"I tell him that every time he walks in," Briggs said.

Six years ago, at 59 years old — the same age at which his father died after suffering four heart attacks — Briggs' shoulder hurt after coming in from shoveling snow.

"And next thing I knew it was 911," Briggs said.

Briggs was having a heart attack, and Coyne was on duty at the hospital.

After a blur of nurses and beeping medical equipment, Briggs woke up looking up to Coyne, his wife, and his brother-in-law at the foot of his hospital bed.

"I'm glad you were there," Briggs told Coyne. "The time I got to spend with my grandkids, my wife, my family for the last six years is — well, I'm thankful every day."

Heart attacks are fairly common: In the U.S., someone has a heart attack about every 40 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most heart attacks — when the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart is suddenly blocked — is now most often caused by coronary artery disease.

"The heart is basically a pump and roughly 100,000 times a day, it fills with blood and it pumps the blood out," Coyne said. "It's really a very active muscle. And because it is such an active muscle, it requires a lot of oxygen. So all of us have three blood vessels that sit on top of the heart. And these three blood vessels deliver blood and oxygen to the heart. Those are the three coronary arteries. If one of those arteries were to get blocked, 100% blocked, and there's no blood getting through to the area of the heart being supplied by that blocked artery ... that area is damaged. And that's a heart attack."

More broadly, in 2020, 1,199 people in Scott, Rock Island, Clinton, Muscatine and Henry counties died from heart disease-related causes, according to the CDC. In addition to coronary artery disease, heart disease also encompasses congestive heart disease, when the heart pumps blood too quickly and ineffectively; valvular heart disease, which is problems with the valves inside the heart; and heart rhythm abnormalities.

Of the five counties, Scott has the lowest age-adjusted rate of mortality from heart disease from 1999 to 2020, and is lower than state and national averages over the same time period. Unlike the rest of the five-county region, Scott County's top cause of death wasn't heart disease; it was cancer.

Neighboring Clinton County has had considerably more people die from heart disease in the past 22 years. It was the third-highest mortality rate of Iowa's counties during that time period. Things are improving, however. In 1999, the county had an age-adjusted rate of 365.9 deaths per 100,000 people. That rate dropped as low as 161 in 2019 before ticking upward to 200.7 in 2020.

According to the 2021 Community Health Assessment, in Scott, Rock Island and Muscatine counties, 88.5% of adults reported in 2021 one or more risk factors for heart disease, such as being overweight, smoking cigarettes, being physically inactive or having high blood pressure or cholesterol.

Before his heart attack, Briggs kept active, but he smoked about a pack of cigarettes a day.

That changed six years ago.

"That was the last cigarette I had was that day," he said.

Smoking is one big risk factor for blockages, Coyne said because of damage cigarette smoke does to artery walls.

"There's something in cigarette smoke that damages the wall of the artery and starts the formation of the cholesterol plaque," Coyne said.

High cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes are also big risk factors for heart disease. To mitigate those risk factors, doctors can prescribe medications to lower cholesterol and blood-pressure levels, and patients can adjust their diet and exercise routines. Genetics, too, can play a role. Coyne recommends tests for family members with known heart problems.

"We keep the blood pressure controlled, we keep cholesterol levels very low, and as best we can we help people quit smoking," Coyne said. "Those are the three major things that we do to help prevent the progression of heart disease.

"Which doesn't sound very exciting as bypass surgery, stenting, those kind of dramatic things. But these things: Keeping the cholesterol low, keeping the blood pressure controlled, they can be very effective to help control heart disease for decades."

Coyne said he's keeping track nationally of trends in diabetes. Although fewer smokers in the U.S. translates to a smaller risk of heart disease, more Americans are being diagnosed with diabetes, he said, which can spell trouble for arteries.

Coyne also recommended family members of those with known heart problems to undergo tests.

Bettendorf resident Brock Biggerstaff is all too familiar with those types of tests. His father died just before his seventh birthday while he worked on a farm in Texas far away from ambulatory services.

"Turns out, it was idiopathic cardiomyopathy, which basically just means a freak heart attack," Biggerstaff said.

At 41 years old, his father left four sons under the age of 7. A few years later, the family moved back to northwest Iowa near his mother's family.

Growing up, he underwent frequent cardiac exams to test for any unforseen heart problems. Luckily, there weren't any.

"Now, the good news is all four of us boys have been checked by cardiologists many times; we do not have a genetic pass through of what this was," Biggerstaff said. "They kept looking for any kind of murmurs or issues with our hearts, and the cardiologists continued to tell us we were healthy, and we should be able to stay healthy as long as we keep up the the right habits."

Coyne likes to emphasize to his patients that people who have a heart attack or have family history of heart problems can manage heart disease for a full life.

"Some of the patients I met 30 years ago after having heart attacks, they're still doing OK," Coyne said. "Now, we're all we're all getting older, but the heart can do well for many years if we do take care of things. Take care of the cholesterol, take care of blood pressure and it really works out well."


Article originally posted on Quad-City Times, August 29, 2022. Written by Sarah Watson - Bettendorf, East Moline, and Silvis Reporter