ADA protects people who have disabilities

Andy Winnegar

It isn’t that unusual to know someone who has had a heart attack.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S. is caused by heart disease.

There is evidence the coronavirus pandemic, which has now killed more than 576,700 Americans, also might have caused an increase in the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Studies have examined the indirect effects of the pandemic on cardiovascular disease patients and their care. During the height of stay-at-home orders, according to one of the studies, published in the January issue of the Journal of American College of Cardiology, there was a reported decline in the number of heart attack and stroke patients being diagnosed and treated, which might have contributed to the higher mortality rate.

According to the researchers, individuals with symptoms of heart disease might have been reluctant to go to hospitals because they feared exposure to the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, according to a report by German researchers published in July in JAMA Cardiology, 76 percent of those who experienced mild to severe COVID-19 also had evidence of some damage to their hearts.

Some of the warning signs of a heart attack include chest pain, ankle swelling, shortness of breath, pain in the neck, back or jaw, sweating, lightheadedness, nausea and fatigue.

The signals that something is wrong should not be ignored, and it is critical that individuals seek emergency treatment and diagnosis as soon as possible, according to the American Heart Association.

Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels: problems with heart rhythm, congenital heart defects, heart valve and muscle disease, and heart infections.

Four years ago, David Thomas, 74, a historian from Las Cruces, was on vacation in Thailand when he got the flu.

He said he went to a clinic for treatment. They took an X-ray and discovered he had an enlarged aorta.

“The doctors there wanted me to go under the knife immediately. My aorta was 12 centimeters wide, which was four times the normal size,” he said.

Thomas decided to fly to Dallas and have his heart surgery at Baylor University Medical Center.

“They cut between my ribs, stopped my heart and put me on a lung-heart machine. When I woke up from the surgery, I had a number of tubes coming out of my body. My right arm and hand were paralyzed, and I thought I would never work again,” he said.

Some people with heart conditions need accommodations to perform their jobs. Patients with heart disease and cardiovascular problems causing disability also might qualify for benefits through the Social Security Administration.

Thomas was lucky: An individual with an enlarged aorta typically experiences no symptoms until the aneurysm ruptures.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends physicians do an ultrasound screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm in men ages 65 to 75 who smoke or used to smoke.

The task force recommends other patients make a decision on such screening with their clinician.

To help determine who would benefit from screening, clinicians should take into account the patient’s medical history; risk factors such as heart disease, high blood pressure and history of other aneurysms; and the personal values and preferences of the patient.

After six weeks in the hospital, rehabilitation and three months of recovery, Thomas was back at work.

“It changed my life,” he said. “I often think about the care and compassion I received from all of those that helped me.”

In March, Thomas published his seventh book on the Mesilla Valley, The Trial of Billy the Kid. His new book is available in local bookstores or online.

Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center. He can be reached at

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