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Feb 2, 2018 5:03 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Sergeant Shares How He Survived His Battle With Heart Disease At Peconic Bay Medical Center In Riverhead Friday

Peconic Bay Medical Center Vice President Susan Somerville, Chief Cardiology Director Stanley Katz, and heart disease survivor James Cavanagh. VALERIE GORDON
Feb 6, 2018 4:13 PM

James Cavanagh is a Southampton Town resident, a Town Police sergeant—and a 58-year-old survivor of heart disease.

He was invited to Peconic Bay Medical Center on Friday to tell his story and help kick off the hospital’s first celebration of National Go Red Day—a movement started by the American Heart Association in 2003 to raise awareness of heart disease—and to show off the hospital’s new cardiac catheterization lab.

At the press conference, Dr. Stanley Katz, the chair of cardiology and chief of interventional cardiology at the Riverhead hospital, noted that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, which is one of every four deaths.

In case of cardiac symptoms, he said, it’s important to seek intervention as quickly as possible.

“Time is muscle,” Dr. Katz said, explaining that it’s imperative that patients not ignore symptoms of cardiac-related distress, which include shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue. “Don’t ignore symptoms.”

But that is exactly what Sgt. Cavanagh did when he went fishing with a friend in October, carrying up a hill nearly 100 pounds of salmon they’d caught. He was out of breath, and he thought, “I’m getting out of shape.”

It wasn’t until approximately four weeks later—after daily exercise, and consistent chest pain—when Sgt. Cavanagh went to his regular physician to get his flu shot, and finally came to grips with the truth.

“I told him about the pressure in my chest when I was running, and he said, ‘Are you kidding me? Are you nuts? Why were you running? You’re going to the cardiologist right now!’”

Within an hour, he found himself face to face with Dr. Katz, who told him that he had a 90-percent blockage in a coronary artery and needed emergency triple-bypass surgery.

“Dr. Katz said, ‘Go get his wife,’” Sgt. Cavanagh said. “Next thing I know, I was on the ambulance to Southside Hospital.”

Having never been overweight, and having no history of heart disease in his family, Sgt. Cavanagh was in shock.

“If he had ignored it for another month, he wouldn’t be here to tell his story,” Dr. Katz said on Friday. “Denial is the first symptom of heart disease.”

Sgt. Cavanagh is one of several dozen East End patients to be treated by cardiologists at the Riverhead hospital since the center’s cardiac catheterization lab opened on October 16. In just under four months, medical staff have performed more than 165 catheterizations and saved dozens of lives.

Stony Brook Southampton Hospital also opened a new cardiac catheterization center this fall, in September, at the Audrey and Martin Gruss Heart & Stroke Center, locating two of the centers on the East End.

Catheterization is a medical procedure in which a small tube is threaded through blood vessels to the patient’s heart. It is used to both diagnose and treat cardiovascular conditions.

“It’s a privilege to have [the cath lab] available on the East End of Long Island,” Dr. Katz said, noting that about 15 percent of patients with heart disease will require bypass surgery. The other 85 percent likely will require only a stent procedure, he said, which leaves a tiny metal sleeve in place to keep a blocked artery open.

“I have seen miracles,” said PBMC Vice President Susan Somerville. “It’s quite amazing.”

Mr. Cavanagh will go for six-month check-ups at PBMC and expects to return to work on Saturday for the first time since his surgery. He said he’s more than ready to get back to the daily grind.

Working in his field, Sgt. Cavanagh is no stranger to fear, but he said he never expected to be diagnosed with heart disease: “It goes to show you that you just never know.”

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I've met Sgt Cavanagh a few times in my travels. Such a nice guy. Glad to hear he got checked out and is feeling better.
By letskeepitreal (15), sagharbor on Feb 4, 18 10:24 AM
1 member liked this comment
I have known Jim for 25 years, and he was never afraid to get on my case about my bad habits. He's a great guy and I'm sorry to hear that he was going through this. I am happy for Jim and his family that he is on the mend and back on the streets. Good luck and God Bless!
By Frank Kennedy (1), Palm Bay on Feb 5, 18 1:56 PM