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Patient Stories

Unexpected Diagnosis, Exceptional Outcome

Phil Brooks describes himself as being more than a little stubborn, which is why he did not seek immediate medical attention when he started waking up in the middle of the night gasping for breath several years ago. “I just shrugged it off thinking it was nothing serious,” says Brooks, 72, a retired mechanical engineer from Lynn. “The sensation would go away once I got up and started moving around, so I wasn’t too worried.” 

After several weeks of disrupted sleep, however, Brooks finally paid a visit to the Emergency Department at NSMC Union Hospital to figure out what was going on. “I might have given it a few more days or even weeks to see how it played out, but my wife, Bernice, insisted I see a doctor,” says Brooks. 

Once in the Emergency Department, Brooks was treated by NSMC cardiologist Michael Goldstein, M.D., who admitted him for testing. A cardiac ultrasound revealed heart weakness. 

“The tests essentially showed that Phil was experiencing a decrease in heart function, which means that his heart’s pumping power was weaker than normal,” says Dr. Goldstein. “As a result, his heart could not pump enough oxygen and nutrients to meet his body’s needs, and fluid was backing up into his lungs. This is what led to his shortness of breath and chest discomfort during the night.” 

The first step in Brooks’s treatment was enrollment in the NSMC Cardiac Rehabilitation Program to help manage his symptoms, increase stamina and improve his dietary habits. The program teaches patients about exercise, nutrition and stress management to help them live a more heart-healthy lifestyle. 

While participating in the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, Brooks completed additional testing that suggested he had a blockage in one or more of the arteries in his heart. Cardiac catheterization confirmed partial blockages in all of Brooks’s major heart arteries—and that he had suffered a heart attack at some point and would need quadruple bypass surgery.

“I was shocked by the news that I had suffered a heart attack,” says Brooks. “I hadn’t realized how serious the situation was until that moment.” 

Soon after, Brooks had quadruple bypass surgery at the NSMC Heart Center. For 10 years, NSMC has offered the only comprehensive heart center on the North Shore, and remains the only one to provide both cardiac surgery and full cardiac interventional services to treat heart conditions.

Immediately following his bypass surgery, Brooks was also treated for atrial fibrillation, a condition that causes an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can lead to poor blood flow throughout the body. He then returned to the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program to continue to strengthen his heart. Now, two years since his original diagnosis, he continues to see Dr. Goldstein on a regular basis to monitor his heart health. 

Thanks to the education he received at NSMC, Brooks now maintains a much healthier diet, walks up to 25 miles per week and practices chair yoga. Impressed with the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, he serves as a volunteer spokesperson, talking to other patients about the program. He also works as a volunteer greeter at NSMC Union Hospital helping the many patients and families who come through the facility each day. 

“The programs and staff at NSMC are tremendous and ultimately got me back to where I need to be physically and mentally,” says Brooks. “To have such great care so close to home really is something special.”