Navy Veteran and heart patient Walter Meekins recently visited the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, striding through the Cardiology Department at top speed, stopping to shake hands and snap photos with VA staff.
“You saved my life,” Meekins told Dr. David Paniagua, Houston VA cardiologist who cared for him. “I can’t thank you enough.”
All three coronary arteries diseased
Nearly one year ago to the day, Meekins, a Vietnam Veteran from Cleveland, Texas, was not feeling so good. In February of 2021, he began experiencing shortness of breath and chest pain. He drove to the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center Emergency Department and was brought to the catheterization lab.
VA physicians discovered all three of his coronary arteries were diseased, with multiple narrowings and blockings.
Meekins, 78, declined coronary artery bypass surgery.
“At my age, I didn’t want to have open heart surgery,” Meekins said. “Lucky for me, my VA doctors found another way to help me.”
Candidate for a special procedure
VA cardiologists identified Meekins as a candidate for a special procedure called a percutaneous coronary intervention protected stent.
Interventional cardiologist Dr. Mirza Umair Khalid employed a special Impella CP heart pump to temporarily assist the pumping function of Meekins’ heart while installing stents to open his blood vessels.
By keeping the vessel open, the stent helped to improve blood flow to the heart muscle. Following the surgery, the tiny heart pump was removed and Meekins was discharged home in two days. In about a week, he was back mowing the grass and repairing small engines at his four-acre home.
“I am not a guy who likes to sit around,” Meekins said. “I immediately felt better after the stents were put in my heart and today I feel amazing.”
According to Khalid, the procedure was a success in more ways than one.
“We knew the procedure went well but the real success is when our Veterans go home and live happy lives,” Khalid said, who is also an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “Seeing Mr. Meekins here a year later feeling so great is incredibly rewarding for us at VA and just what we are about.”
As Meekins left the Houston VA to go home to Rita, his wife of 43 years, he stopped by the catheterization lab to give thrilled employees a thank you and a high-five.
“I’m a different man than the last time I was here,” Meekins said.