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UPMC Passavant helps a double black diamond skier overcome his biggest challenge

At age 47, the last thing Russ Graswick expected was to have a heart attack. Just two weeks earlier he was skiing hard out west in the Colorado mountains, tackling double black diamond runs at Beaver Creek Resort.

But he woke up early that morning in February 2019 with an uncomfortable squeezing pressure in his chest. “I thought I pulled something,” says Russ. “I went back to sleep, but a half hour later it came back even more intense.”

His wife Dione drove him to nearby UPMC Passavant, just minutes from their McCandless home. By the time they pulled into the lot, the pressure had eased. “I was wondering about turning around when I thought of a buddy of mine who was in good shape but had a major heart attack at 52 and dropped dead. So, I went in,” says Russ.

Inside UPMC Passavant’s emergency department, a cardiac care team jumped into action. Although an EKG initially appeared normal, bloodwork confirmed he’d had a heart attack. They stabilized him with medication before moving him to the cardiac catheterization lab.

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Bryan Robertson, MD, an interventional cardiologist, performed a cardiac catheterization procedure to examine Russ’ heart and identify the problem. He found two blockages — one 95 percent clogged, the other 85 percent — in the left anterior descending artery, which supplies blood to the heart.

Russ, who remained conscious throughout the procedure, watched on a monitor as Dr. Robertson inserted a thin, inflatable balloon into his clogged artery and then opened it to “push” plaque away. He then inserted two stents to keep the artery open.

Three days later, Russ returned home on a blood thinner and other medicine to control his blood pressure and cholesterol. He continued with outpatient cardiac rehabilitation over the next three months.

A year later, Russ says he “feels great.” Since his hospital stay, he joined a gym and exercises regularly. He is more mindful of what he eats — opting now for fish instead of red meat — and has lost 30 pounds. Russ started the new year back in Colorado with a ski trip to Telluride and recently returned again for more skiing at Beaver Creek and Vail.

“UPMC Passavant did a wonderful job and I’m so thankful for the first-class care I received there,” says Russ. “Dr. Robertson was fabulous and everyone in the emergency department and cath lab was great. They really take wonderful care of patients.”

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine.