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Surviving "The Widowmaker:" Two life-saving stories and the cutting-edge heart surgery coming to Bellin Health

Surviving "The Widowmaker:" Two life-saving stories and the cutting-edge heart surgery coming to Bellin Health
Posted at 6:07 PM, Feb 01, 2024
  • Ed Myers, a "Widowmaker" survivor, quickly returns to work after a major heart attack, showcasing remarkable progress in heart surgery.
  • Larry Van Rite's near-death experience on New Year's Eve, 2020, highlights the life-saving efforts of Bellin Hospital's cardiac team
  • Bellin's cardiac program talks under an hour blockage treatments and anticipates becoming one of the only providers of robotic heart surgery in the state.

(The following is based off a transcription of the full broadcast story)

Today marks the first day of Heart Health Month. Just a couple of months ago, our friend and colleague, Ed Myers, suffered a major heart attack—the type they call the "Widowmaker." Years ago, such an event would almost certainly end someone's life, but Ed was back to work almost immediately with just a small bandage on his wrist. That's how far heart surgery has come in the last few years.

In honor of Heart Health Month, NBC 26 delved deeper into the world of heart health to met another survivor with a story parallel to Ed and the surgeon who saved both their lives.

"I went and I worked out at six, and I got home within less than an hour I was, I was dead in the hospital," says Larry Van Rite, who suffered a massive heart attack three years ago, on the morning of New Year’s Eve, 2020.

“I was dead for eight minutes. I got shocked 14 times,’ he says.

“So I was up to heaven. And I stood before the light, and I didn't want to go in,” he adds with a laugh.

The sweating, flu-like symptoms hit hard. It was then Larry called his son to drive him to Bellin Hospital.

"I remember sitting on a table taking my shirt off, and just like that, I was out on the table."

Larry's heart had stopped. The Bellin cardiac team started chest compressions and electric shocks but to no avail.

Larry describes what happened to him through tears.

"My son was with me the whole time. He has seen everything. He... said, there was a guy sitting on top of you, and they were shocking you... both of you... right off the table. You shocked that hard.”

The cardiac team located the blockage in less than five minutes. That's when cardiologist, Dr. Sumit Ringwala went to work.

Dr. Ringwala: (Quotes from the surgeon)

"He had basically his whole front wall (of his heart) was had a big massive heart attack," said Dr. Ringwala.

"He was just... he was in trouble."

Dr. Ringwala inserted a balloon into Larry’s artery. Opened up the blockage, and inserted a stent to get the blood flow back to Larry’s heart.

"Little by little, all of a sudden these little veins all started kind of opening up, and the rest is history."

Bellin's cardiac program can open up a blocked blood vessel in less than an hour. Dr. Ringwala reached Larry's blockage through a small incision in his groin. Years ago, patients needed bypass surgery, cutting the chest wide open to reach the blockage.

"We try to open it up as quickly as possible. If you look at studies, they show that within 90 minutes, if you can get the blood vessel open, people do better. We average less than an hour in heart attacks to get them open, and that's even with people flying in from all over the state,” Dr Ringwala adds.

"As most heart programs around the state are shrinking, Bellin is full-on growing. We consistently are getting one or two new heart doctors," says Dr Ringwala of the expanding cardiac program at Bellin Health in Green Bay.

"Our surgeons here are going to be starting a robotic surgery situation where they're able to, instead of doing the zipper there, in some cases, they're able to do open-heart surgery with the robot."

Soon, Bellin will be one of the only providers of robotic heart surgery in the state, making heart surgery safer and helping more patients return home.

"The Bellin team, what can I say? Dr. Ringwala, he saved me. That's what I love about this... nobody gave up. They were working on a dead man, and they didn't give up. And that is a testament to Bellin," says Larry through tears.

Since Larry’s heart attack his health continues to improve. He continues to run several family-owned businesses in Green Bay.

Thankfully, our friend, Ed Myers also has a clean bill of health and continues to be grateful to the team at Bellin and Dr. Ringwala for saving his life.