At age 62, George Lamson considered himself physically fit and in excellent health.
The Mooresville resident worked out in the gym regularly and had a diet high in protein and low in fat.
So when he felt burning in his chest and throat one evening last summer, he didn't think it could be a heart attack.
His story is a lesson in how easy it is to miss subtle symptoms and ignore risk factors for heart disease, and how quick action by health-care workers can minimize damage from a heart attack.
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Lamson just started a new job as director of information technology at Lowe's corporate office in Mooresville. In orientation he learned the on-site infirmary opened at 8 a.m.
He didn't sleep much that night.
After a 7 a.m. meeting the next day, his boss walked him to the infirmary, where the nurse took his blood pressure and did an electrocardiogram.
She quickly determined Lamson was having a heart attack. She called 911.
Still in denial
Lamson couldn't believe what was happening.
"I was still in denial, thinking they had to be wrong," Lamson said.
When he arrived at the hospital, the interventional cardiologist said a blocked artery had to be cleared.
Lamson said he was amazed at how everything happened so quickly. He was looked at by a Lowe's physician's assistant around 8:15 a.m., and everything was over before 10:30 a.m.
"Afterwards, they told me I was a very lucky person to have survived.... Of course, it's even more miraculous that I came through it in such good shape.
Know all the signs
Lamson said knowing the signs would be one thing he would like to have known.
"If I could do one thing over, it would be to know both the typical and atypical signs and symptoms of a heart attack," he said.
Lamson said he did not have a shooting pain down his arm or pressure on his chest.
"There was some pressure and burning in my chest and, in hindsight, a little shortness of breath," he said.
How is does a person with a healthy diet and exercise regimen have a heart attack with no warning?
"Stress and heredity also are important risk factors not to be ignored," said Dr. Ray Georgeson, cardiologist with Piedmont HealthCare. "There is not anything you can do about heredity except be aware of it. However, stress is something that we all must learn to manage."
Lamson's doctor told him there's no reason he can't live out his plans to join a cycling team, travel, golf, spend time with his mom and coach high school track during his future retirement.
Lamson said he now takes time out during work to recharge. After a particularly challenging meeting, he takes a walk.
Besides good nutrition and exercise, he said, he realizes now how important it is to manage stress for a healthy heart.
"I realized that I had a lot of stress in my life," he said. "Some of it good stress, like starting a new job (and) moving....
"I learned that I have to pace myself.... I work long hours, but I love what I do."