Mylous Hairston was delivering the 6 p.m. newscast on June 27 when he experienced a tightness in his chest while on the air. The last thing on his mind was a heart attack.
"I work out hard five or six days a week," said the WIBV-TV anchorman. "I watch what I eat. My cholesterol was good. I felt I was invincible."
The pain would return during the 11 p.m. newscast. Standing brought no relief, and when Hairston went home he found he could not lie down comfortably. In his bed or on the sofa, no matter how hard he tried, nothing relieved the pulling he felt in his chest. At 3:30 a.m., Hairston finally fell asleep on his sofa.
"It wasn't like pain or anything like that," recalled Hairston, sitting at Gold's Gym in Cheektowaga, waiting to work out. "It was a pulling sensation, like I had pulled a muscle, but more severe."
The symptom Hairston was experiencing -- pressure, a tightening or heaviness in the chest -- is one of the warning signs of a heart attack. It requires immediate medical attention.
"Sometimes people don't think it's a heart attack," said Dr. JoAnne Cobler, president of the board of the American Heart Association Western Region. "They don't want to complain. He was getting symptoms. Those are warning symptoms to go right to the emergency room."
At age 44, Hairston suffered a minor heart attack. He has recovered well with exercise and diet, and is poised to return to work next week.
Hairston shared his story so others who have similar symptoms know to seek immediate medical attention. Among both men and women -- and across all racial and ethnic groups -- cardiovascular disease is New York State's leading killer.
Hairston continued his routine the next day, Sunday -- starting at the gym, then going to work. Later, the symptoms surfaced again, but with his yearly physical set for that Tuesday, Hairston figured he could hold out, and pointed to professional and personal stress as the culprit.
As president of the labor union that represents all of his on-air colleagues, Hairston was involved in a series of negotiations. A few of his colleagues had already lost their jobs. And two years ago, Hairston's marriage failed.
But Monday, at the gym, Hairston knew something was up. The 17-mile cardio routine he usually completed without much effort ended with the newsman huffing, puffing and gasping for breath. On Tuesday -- when labor negotiations at the station broke for lunch -- he headed straight for his scheduled physical.
"She did an EKG, and did not like what she saw," he recalled. "I told her my symptoms, and before I could finish, she called an ambulance, and then she started talking about stents. Here I am sitting on the table with a gown on. She never said heart attack. I asked her if I could drive."
Hairston was wheeled through the medical office building. Only once was he stopped, when a woman in the waiting room reminded him he forgot his raincoat.
"My head was spinning," he said. "I couldn't believe it. I was nervous. How bad is this? I never expected it, and didn't know. High blood pressure ran in my family, but not heart attacks."
Within 20 minutes of arriving at Buffalo General Hospital, Hairston was in surgery. Two stents were installed and, eventually, he was informed he had suffered a minor heart attack caused in part by an artery that was 85 percent blocked.
"A catheter or tube goes up the groin to the artery in the heart," explained Cobler, who did not treat Hairston. "They find the blockage, open it with a balloon and deploy the stent, and that keeps the artery open. A stent is metal. Before, they would just open it up with a balloon procedure called an angioplasty, but many times the opening would close off within the first three months or so. Stents do better at keeping the artery open longer."
Hairston's time in the operating room was not over. More discomfort -- attributed to a blood clot, he said -- would require the installation of two additional stents and extend his hospital stay to six days. Throughout the ordeal, Hairston posted on Facebook.
"I kept my BlackBerry," he said. "That's why I didn't go crazy. I was hooked up to the outside world. It beats watching TV."
Hairston knew all about diet and exercise. In 2006, when his weight hit 250 and he was nearing glucose intolerance, he launched a fitness and diet regimen that would result in the loss of more than 60 pounds.
"I was having problems walking up stairs," he said. "I would be huffing and puffing. I was drinking soft drinks, eating things late at night when I got home from anchoring. I was having microwave chicken wings."
That's when fitness trainer Pat LaDuca started working with Hairston.
"He was training for a marathon and everything was great," said LaDuca. "After the Marine Corps Marathon in '07, he kind of let it go and we had to start all over again."
Following his release from the hospital, Hairston first went to cardio rehabilitation before returning to the gym, where again he worked with LaDuca. His conditioning allowed for his rapid recovery and ultimately lessened the damage to his heart, LaDuca believed.
"The fact that he was in such great shape made it easier for him to do what he had to do," LaDuca said. "The transition was better. His body recovered quicker. I've been doing this for 25 years, maybe more. Our most compliant members are people who have had heart attacks because they are scared. It's like a wake-up call."
"He does pretty much every piece of cardiovascular equipment here because I want to cross-train him properly," said LaDuca.
As for medication, Hairston is taking two beta blockers, blood thinner, one baby aspirin each day, plus a medication that treats the "C-reactive protein," a marker of inflammation associated with cardiac risk.
Hairston also started a food diary. He refrains from processed foods, shuns refined rices and white bread, opting instead for whole grain foods with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Yogurt and a pear for breakfast could be washed down later at the gym with a shot of wheat grass and a protein smoothie.
He also has taken advantage of his time off to catch up with friends, and spend much more time with his mother, who at age 81 awaits her son's return to television.
"It's a tough way to get a summer off, but I've had a chance to see friends," he said. "I stayed local and relaxed. And I saw my Mom virtually every day, which made her happy.
"I haven't felt this good in years," Hairston added. "It's like somebody lifted a weight off me. I'm flowing now. There's no blockage, so obviously I feel better. It's like night and day.