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'Seek treatment': Man who had heart attack speaks out after avoiding ER due to COVID-19

Patrick Parry’s fear of contracting the coronavirus almost cost him his life when he allowed it to keep him from seeking swift medical attention. It’s a case that highlights a deadly trend.
/ Source: TODAY

Many Americans are putting off routine medical care, cancer screenings or delaying emergency treatment for fear of contracting the coronavirus at hospitals or urgent cares. For Patrick Parry, 52, that fear almost cost him his life.

“I woke up, and I came downstairs by myself. I just wasn't feeling right,” he recalled during a chat with TODAY’s Craig Melvin. “I didn't feel terrible, (but) I wasn't feeling right.”

When his wife, a school nurse, woke up, he told her that he believed it was just a bout of heartburn. He was wrong.

“Melissa asked me to rate my pain and I rated it a four on a scale of one to 10,” Parry noted. “And then after that we talked about going to the hospital, and I was resistant, partly because of the COVID situation. I did not want to go to the hospital and expose myself to the COVID that was running rampant at the time, and then bring it home to a house full of people.”

That proved to be a big mistake, as the then 51-year-old was actually in the midst of suffering a massive heart attack.

Despite the dangers of COVID-19, heart disease remains the No. 1 killer in the U.S. and around the world, and studies have shown that cardiovascular deaths have spiked amid the pandemic.

Parry with his wife and three daughter.
Parry with his wife and three daughter.TODAY

According to the results of a recent Cleveland Clinic survey, around 85% of Americans say they are concerned about contracting the coronavirus when seeking treatment for other health problems. Half of those surveyed — and 65% of those with heart disease — admitted to putting off screenings and checkups. And even though 53% of the cardiac patients reported one or more troubling symptoms during the pandemic, more than a third of them didn’t seek medical care.

And Parry wouldn’t have had the chance to get medical care either; luckily his wife called for help and began CPR when she found him passed out hours after that first symptom.

“It was horrific, but you kind of just go through the motions,” Melissa Parry said of the frightening experience. “I just kept telling him this isn't our story. This isn't how our story is going to go.”

Eventually, she was proven right, but it was touch and go for a long time. Parry ended up spending two month in hospitals — a month of that he spent unconscious — getting five stents and suffering two cardiac arrests before recovering enough to go home. According to one of his doctors, he’s lucky to be alive.

“The chances of Patrick’s survival from his heart attack were dismal,” Dr. Heba Wassif, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, explained to TODAY. “If Patrick had come in immediately when he started experiencing symptoms, there was a higher chance that he may have not suffered from the consequences of his heart attack.”

And that’s the important messages others can take away from Parry’s harrowing tale, and he hopes they do.

“I did not make the correct decision,” he says now of his initial reluctance to get help. “I think I rationalized reasons not to go to the hospital. One of the major one was the fear of COVID. I would tell folks that COVID is out there, and we should all be very cautious, but by avoiding going to the hospital because of COVID, I spent two months in the hospital with other folks that had COVID. So my advice would be to leave COVID out of the equation when it comes to your decisions to seek treatment.”