Overcoming Hospital Fears During Pandemic, He Has Timely Heart Intervention

On a Saturday in June 2020, Deepak Gulati, 71, strolled up a small hill on the Upper East Side. He’d walked it dozens of times, with no ill effects. But this day, he started to sweat and have difficulty breathing. When he got home, he described his symptoms to his wife, Rashmi Gulati, MD—who is an internist at Mount Sinai Hospital—and called his cardiologist, Annapoorna S. Kini, MD. Dr. Kini recommended a check-up on Monday, so he set the appointment. Then Deepak decided to take a nap. An hour later, he woke up in severe pain. “I started to get a tightness in my chest, and I felt like I couldn't breathe,” he said.

Deepak was at risk for heart problems. He had a strong family history of heart failure and suffered from high blood pressure and diabetes. But he was doing everything in his power to prevent a problem: he followed a heart-friendly diet, exercised regularly and took vitamin supplements. And saw a cardiologist regularly.

His wife was worried he might be having a heart attack and wanted him to go directly to the hospital. But he was worried about going to a hospital because of COVID-19, which had been on the rise months before. “Absolutely not,” he said. Rashmi and Dr. Kini finally convinced him to go to the Emergency Department at The Mount Sinai Hospital. When Deepak and his wife arrived, they were relieved to see the ED was almost empty and patients with COVID-19 were isolated.

Because Dr. Kini had called in instructions, the hospital technician immediately administered an electrocardiogram (EKG). Halfway through the test, the technician called out Code Red, and Deepak was rushed to The Mount Sinai Hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, a world leader in its field. Deepak was experiencing a ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), a serious heart attack. Plaque ruptured in his main coronary artery and a blood clot blocked blood flow to the heart muscle.

Dr. Kini, Director of the Laboratory, was waiting, pulling on her gown as she issued instructions. “They should change her name to ‘Angel,’” says Deepak. A COVID-19 test was negative. She opened his heart and used a balloon and stent to push back the plaque deposits so the blood could pass.

The procedure was completed within an hour of Deepak’s arrived at Mount Sinai. “He was lucky he got to the hospital so quickly; he should have minimal damage to his heart,” says Dr. Kini. “Half the people don’t make it to the hospital in time. And their outcomes aren’t as good. Timing is key.”

“My advice is ‘don’t think twice,’” says Deepak. “Don’t worry about COVID-19. You’re not going to get it in the hospital. They’re very, very careful. They’re doing everything—masks, gowns, gloves, hand washing. Your chances of dying of a heart attack are much more than your chances of dying of the coronavirus. The staff at the hospital are very well trained, very loving and caring. Don’t be afraid to go. It can save your life.”