With family history of heart disease, man from Scotia says calcium coronary scintigraphy may have saved his life
Gary Geiger has always risen to the challenge. At 74, he sprinted on tracks often winning races at statewide competitions and still enjoys jogging twenty miles a week. But after taking a recent test as part of his annual checkup, he had the shock of a lifetime.
âI’ve always been proud of my fitness, so I went to this coronary scans with a cavalier attitude, thinking my score would be low. When my doctor told me my score, I thought she was joking. She said calcium was everywhere. It’s the curse, âGeiger said. âThank you very much the ancestors. “
A coronary scintigraphy measures the amount of calcium in the plaque in the arteries. Plaque, which also includes cholesterol and fat, can grow and restrict blood flow to the muscles of the heart and can contribute to possible heart disease. In Geiger’s case, he has a family history of heart disease with male limbs dating back to generations who died between the late 1940s and the 1960s. Geiger at 74 said he was the oldest Geiger living for generations.
Looking back, Geiger said he has no idea. A 1965 graduate of Linton High School, he has always participated in track and field events which over the years have included meets in Syracuse and throughout New England. He was the 1980 200-meter champion at the Eastern Regionals in Hartford in the 30-34 age group; won gold medals at the Empire State Games in the 100-meter and 200-meter races and later at the Senior State Games in the 100 and 400-meter races and was first in the United States in 2002 in the 55-meter sprint for the 55-59 age group. He also won powerlifting in the light and middleweight divisions in the Eastern State competitions of 1975 and 1978 and was a member of the Empire State Games Open Division in Olympic-style lifting in the categories of snatch and clean and jerk.
âMy life has been centered on athletics,â he said. “It’s a way of life.”
Over the years he trained four days a week as a sprinter, but only age started to give him problems. He had a few injuries and a few years ago he developed prostate problems that put him on the sidelines for five months.
âThe recovery time was long, but then I started doing brisk walks,â Geiger said. “But I had lost a lot of stamina and body weight.”
He persevered and built up his stamina to train up to six days a week, mostly as a middle distance runner, which he said his body seemed to like. On some of his runs, however, he started to notice a strange pressure in his left pectoral region that came and went. During his annual checkup that year, he told his elementary school about it and was shocked when she suggested he should see a cardiologist and take a stress test. He had also asked her to take a test that a relative had taken – the coronary calcium CT scan. That she refused. Instead, Geiger decided not to take the stress test and resumed running as usual although the odd pressure kept coming and going.
But in July, Geiger contacted his primary again and requested the coronary calcium test. This time she agreed. The test and the whole process takes up to 15 minutes. Electrodes are attached to the chest and connect to a device that records heart activity even when X-ray images are taken between heartbeats.
âAll of the coronary plaque contains calcium and it lights up on CT scans,â said Dr. Sandeep Mangalmurti of Cardiology Associates of Schenectady, Geiger’s cardiologist. âThe test has been used intermittently over the past ten or twenty years. But now we’re more aggressive with calcium scores, especially with borderline risk patients. “
In standard blood tests, cholesterol levels are just rough indicators and do not give the complete picture.
âThe scan is totally different. Otherwise, there is no way to find out, âhe said. âThe test is reliable in that it shows the amount of calcium in the plaque. But you don’t want to read the test too much. Family history plays a role as well as a patient with risks like diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, smoking and borderline cholesterol.
Mangalmurti said many medical professionals, including himself, had passed the test. His results, for example, were good and gave him confidence to keep doing what he was doing. But anyone interested in taking the test should talk to their doctor. Insurance generally does not cover the cost, which can range from $ 75 to $ 100.
âYou have to look at the patient as a whole. It’s not an age issue, âhe said.
Geiger, however, immediately had to make some changes. He was put on an aspirin and statin baby and started eating even healthier than before on a Mediterranean-style diet. But due to her family history, she was told it was her family’s DNA that helped produce so much plaque.
Geiger also wanted to start vigorously training again, which is why Mangalmurti suggested that he take further tests, which included a nearly all-day nuclear stress test that involves more photos of his heart, a workout. workout on a treadmill and an echocardiogram which presented what Mangalmurti said was a “mild abnormality” called a stenosis or small narrowing of an artery. A procedure has been suggested to possibly correct this, but this is something Geiger has yet to decide.
âIt’s been a shock since July, but I have a great team and I love my doctors,â Geiger said. âBut deep down I’m a sprinter and they want instant gratification. . .and I want to maintain my quality of life as long as possible. I don’t see myself sitting on a chair in a retirement home. I feel like the test saved my life. My blood tests never indicated any problems. We all have an expiration date and my work is in progress. My goal: to cross the finish line and then fall.
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