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Patient Profile – Fighting Family History

Fuquay-Varina native Sammy Smith has known since a young age that when it comes to heart health, the odds were not in his favor. His father, Leon Samuel Smith, suffered a major heart attack at age 25 and from then on, had numerous other heart problems, including the need for a valve replacement. Years later, during a second surgery to replace a heart valve his body succumbed to his weak heart as well as an unrelated cancer. Sammy said goodbye to his father and best friend just after the birth of his own son – his dad was only 56 years old and never got to experience the joy of grand-parenthood.

A Commitment to a Heart Healthy Lifestyle

At this point, Sammy knew a heart healthy lifestyle was no longer optional and worked tirelessly to ensure exercise became a non-negotiable part of his every day life. That’s why Sammy jumped into the fitness industry as the club owner of BodyWorx in 1991, which grew quickly. Years later, Sammy partnered with a local group of investors to open ClubWorx in 2001 – a well-respected, large health and wellness center in Fuquay-Varina.

Sammy at BodyWorx, his fitness company

Preventative Care at WakeMed

Even though he was an avid runner and workout fanatic for most of his life, Sammy began seeing a cardiologist in his 40s to keep close tabs on his heart health. Sammy chose Dr. Amarendra Reddy, the same cardiologist who had cared for his father – an exceptional physician who had cared enough to attend his dad’s funeral. When Dr. Reddy retired after a long career as one of WakeMed’s most respected cardiologists in 2013, Sammy was fortunate to connect with one of his partners, Dr. Frances Wood. Dr. Wood continues to provide Sammy’s preventive checkups, routine care and interventions as needed.

Sammy Beats the Odds

Until 2015, it seemed that Sammy’s commitment to exercise was helping him beat the odds – yet one day during his typical two-hour exercise routine, he started feeling some unusual twinges and pressure. Based on his family history, Sammy knew exactly what to do. He went straight to the WakeMed Heart Center for a stress test – one he failed pretty miserably due to a 99% major blocked artery that is often dubbed the “widow maker” for its ability to cause a fatal heart attack. Fortunately for Sammy, a routine angioplasty and stent placement got him quickly back on his feet. He was exercising again in no time and feeling great.

“Sammy was the perfect patient – he listened carefully to his body and didn’t delay when something felt amiss,” explains Dr. Frances Wood. “Even so, with his family history, he is incredibly fortunate to have avoided a major heart attack.”

Transradial Technique for Blockages

Four years passed without problems, until Sammy felt a familiar pressure in his chest during exercise – he just knew something wasn’t right. After a stress test and an EKG, it appeared things were OK, but Dr. Wood listened to Sammy’s concerns carefully and opted to perform an exploratory cath – just to be certain. Once again, Dr. Wood discovered that Sammy’s same left anterior descending artery was blocked a bit further down this time. Dr. Wood cleared the blockage and placed a stent – all using a transradial technique that allowed the procedure to be done through a simple incision in Sammy’s wrist. He was sent home the same day and felt immediate relief.

Fitness After a Major Heart Procedure

“When Sammy’s procedure was finished, I knew what his first question would be…’When can I exercise again?,’ relayed Dr. Wood. “When you consider that Sammy’s relentless commitment to exercise is most likely what’s helped him fight heart disease thus far, I suggested he slowly ease back into it the next day. He was back to running his daily half marathon within a week.”

Blessed to Be Alive

Sammy realizes how blessed he is to be here. “I am so grateful to have a great cardiology team on my side – listening to me and looking out for me, just like they did my father. I am so blessed to be alive and am enjoying every moment of being a new grandfather. It’s a privilege I couldn’t possibly take for granted.” Sammy’s sweet granddaughter, Nola is lucky to have him – and the WakeMed Heart Center – in the family.