Tragic loss prompts heart program at Farragut Rotary

Tom KingFarragut, Our Town Health

You may remember a column of mine, four months back, on June 24, about the Rotary Club of Farragut losing four members in 2021. One of those was Mark Bialik. He died of a heart attack on June 18 while playing golf.

Yesterday, the club welcomed as its speaker Nicholas “Nick” Xenopoulos M.D., a member of the Cardiology Associates of East Tennessee group. Mark’s sudden death is why we invited Dr. Xenopoulos to speak. If it could happen to Mark, it could happen to any of us.

Xenopoulos received his medical degree from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki School of Medicine in Greece and has been in practice for more than 20 years. Prior to moving to Knoxville in 2011, he received the 2004 Physician of the Year award from the Kentucky chapter of the American Heart Association. He also was voted by his peers in Kentucky as the Best Interventional Cardiologist in Louisville in 2010.

Some context is needed here. For five days before Mark died, he was complaining to people about shortness of breath and feeling like he had indigestion. Two days before he died, at our weekly club meeting at Fox Den on June 16, I asked him if he was OK, that his face looked ashen. His reply: “Just some indigestion and my energy level is down. I’m OK.”

Club member Noah Myers told him the next evening before a meeting at the Farragut Town Hall that he looked bad and needed to go to the emergency room. He refused. Later at home, his wife, B.J. Swineheart-Bialik, tried to talk him into going to the emergency room at Parkwest Medical Center. She knew something was wrong. He would not budge. He refused to go. “I should have just called an ambulance,” she says now.

During his comments, Xenopoulos said, “Denial is a real problem. Too many people ignore the symptoms.”

Among his comments, the doctor shared these facts about CAD (coronary artery disease):

  • Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. (13% of all deaths).
  • Average age of death for men is 65; 72 for women.
  • Every 39 seconds someone has a heart attack. Of those who die, 50% had clear symptoms before dying.
  • 70% of heart attacks happen at home.
  • The primary symptoms: fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, light-headedness, chest pain, irregular heartbeat and a bluish color or discomfort of the hands and feet
  • The causes: smoking (13.7% of people smoke in the U.S.), obesity (42% of our population is obese), inactivity, bad nutrition, diabetes (10%), high cholesterol (38%), high blood pressure (47%) and genetics.
  • The solutions: stop smoking; exercise (2 ½ hours a week of aerobic activity, muscle strengthening two days a week); avoid red meat, refined sugars and modified fats; eat more vegetables and fruits.

It was an eye-opening program.

He talked about stents and bypass surgery as solutions. “Stents are very effective but they will not save your life but will lengthen your life. Bypass surgery saves your life.” He’s also high on statin drugs, a class of lipid-lowering medications that reduce illness and mortality and are the most common cholesterol-lowering drugs. He also recommends taking an 81 mg chewable baby aspirin daily.

“If Mark’s death can lead to a program like this and save a life, that’s just wonderful,” Swineheart-Bialik said.

To explore membership in the Rotary Club of Farragut, call 865-659-3562. Farragut Rotary meets each Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. at Fox Den Country Club. Tom King, a past president of Farragut Rotary, has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and has been the editor of two newspapers.

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