New Kensington Volunteer Fire Department, Pennsylvania
My name is Tom Straub. I am a 36-year member of the New Kensington Volunteer Fire Department in western Pennsylvania. I am also a safety advocate for the Everyone Goes Home Program® and a trainer for the Courage to Be Safe® course. Little did I know that four years ago the Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives would help set the stage for saving my life. My story follows:
Four years ago, based on the publication of the Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives, our department applied for and was fortunate enough to receive an AFG grant for a Firefighter Health, Fitness, and Wellness program. As part of the grant, we were able to offer our firefighters a full slate of medical tests and screenings giving our department a starting baseline. Since it was only a one-year grant, following the initial screenings, we recommended that our firefighters continue with yearly check-ups through their personal physicians. I, along with many others, continued to have the annual physical and for the next three years, all went well. But at the end of year four, a different saga began.
Just after Thanksgiving, I had my physical, along with the annual stress test. All initially appeared fine; good heart rate, good EKG, I felt good; no pain whatsoever. The attending doctor was pleased with the test and sent me on for the second set of pictures (a Thallium test). He was ready to sign off on me when the report came back indicating that several areas of the heart were not getting their proper blood supply. The heart catheterization came next with even worse news. Nearly the entire length of my Left Anterior Descending (LAD) Artery was severely blocked and several other arteries had blockages as well. As the cardiologist reviewed the results with me, he stated that I was the proverbial “ticking time bomb.” Knowing that I was a firefighter, the doctor said he was very surprised that I hadn’t already had a “cardiac episode” at any of my recent fire calls.
You can probably guess where I was headed next. If you said to the operating room, you are correct. There they opened me up and by-passed the severely blocked artery and two others for a “triple,” as the lingo is spoken. The surgery, thankfully, was successful.
That was last December; now, fast forward to March. My cardiologist states that there was absolutely no damage to the heart and that my recovery is going fine. I’m back at work and expect to be answering fire calls very soon. Thank you, Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives. You helped save my life!