McGraw adds more miles with heart surgery

Ray McGraw of Princeton has the skills to restore smashed cars, but when it came to his heart attack this past year, he knew he had to turn to medical personnel to check out his worsening symptoms.Heart-Story--Ray

His turning to Fairview has now given McGraw another chance at life.

McGraw had already gone through a heart attack in 1995, when he developed another one last May. During his first heart attack, he was given an in-depth blood test called an angiogram, and then given angioplasty in which balloons were inserted into two arteries to expand them. Everything then seemed all right with his coronary health the next 17 years, until May 2012, he says. McGraw had spinal surgery early that month to deal with back pain. But then a day or two later he began perspiring and was not feeling well.

In an interview later, McGraw recalled how he began worrying that he might be having another heart attack. So he had his wife Sandy bring him to the Fairview Northland emergency department (ED). His blood work and the results of an electrocardiogram (EKG) to analyze the heart’s electrical functioning came back fine, so he went home.

But three weeks later, after an outing of watching races at Princeton Speedway, he began not feeling well again. He was perspiring and felt pain in his left shoulder. McGraw took a nitroglycerine, or nitro, tablet that people with a history of coronary disease will sometimes take when they feel chest pain, and his symptoms went away. But the symptoms returned a short time later so McGraw took a second nitro tablet.

Feeling fine after the second tablet, McGraw went to bed, only to feel the symptoms return by 4 a.m. This time McGraw not only took another nitro tablet, but also alerted the Fairview Northland ED, which recommended he come in and get checked out.

McGraw says he realized at that point he couldn’t ignore the seriousness of his situation, knowing his family history of heart problems that affected his parents and a grandfather.

“I’m glad I listened to them,” McGraw says of the Fairview Northland emergency personnel. Although the results of his blood work and EKG during the emergency visit checked out all right, the Fairview Northland doctor there was not ready to send McGraw back home without more checks. The doctor consulted with a cardiologist at Fairview Southdale and decided to have McGraw transferred to that facility to receive an angiogram.

The angiogram showed that McGraw, who at that time was nearing 66, had five blocked arteries. McGraw remembers being “astounded,” thinking his heart condition couldn’t be that serious. He was working out four times a week and was leading an active life, he explained. “Even my doctors were amazed I could function so well with that much blockage,” McGraw said. “I had no idea.”

His only other health problems were a painful bout with Lyme’s disease about five years ago, and also his back problems.

McGraw’s cardiologist, James Erdahl, MD, after looking at McGraw’s angiogram at Fairview Southdale last May, recommended open heart bypass surgery. Dr. Erdahl performed the surgery on May 20, repairing four of McGraw’s arteries that were more than 95 percent blocked.

McGraw returned home within a week of the surgery and for two to three months had cardiac rehab work at Fairview Northland. Cardiac rehab includes monitored exercise and education on how to stay healthy.


Looking back

McGraw, leaning back in his office chair on Monday this week at Ray’s Auto Body that he has owned and operated for 16 years just south of Princeton city limits, said he is feeling “good” now. As he stroked the hair on one of the two Shih Tzu (pronounced sheet soo) dogs that inhabit his office each work day, McGraw acknowledged cutting back on his hands-on work at the shop. But then he joked that his slowdown is only due to his becoming “so old,” McGraw reminding everyone in earshot that he is now 66 after all.

McGraw, at the same time, is not leaving his health to chance. He goes to Princeton Health & Fitness at least three times per week to work out on the treadmill, having managed to work out there 19 times just last month.

McGraw has a lot of reasons to live beyond just for himself. He has wife Sandy that he has been married to for 38 years, a daughter Buffy, and two grandchildren Katelin and Connor, plus the two Shih Tzu dogs that McGraw shows a tenderness for.

McGraw and the Princeton area is fortunate to have a medical center in its midst with a rehab department and cardiac follow-up services. They include office visits and consults, care for heart rhythm disorders and heart failure, and follow-up care for invasive procedures.

A note from Fairview states that it has a team of cardiologists, nurses and staff that “brings a deep understanding of academic medicine with advanced clinic skills to provide life-saving care to people with heart disease.”

“I’m just happy it was my heart and not something else,” McGraw said. They (researchers) have made more progress with the heart.”

McGraw also expressed thankfulness for the support he received to keep his auto repair business functioning, but most importantly to those who have given him more years to live.

“Everybody I ran into (at Fairview) was awesome,” he said.