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Wellness and You: Heart Health

A walk through a doctor's personal encounter with heart failure

by Don Michael, MD, PC
March 27, 2011

It was a great party. There were intelligent, interesting people to talk with, and the coffee was the best I’d ever had. I must have had 6 or 7 cups before the evening was over. I left feeling both sober and good.

I woke up Sunday feeling shaky and short of breath. I tried taking my pulse, but it was too fast and irregular to count. In a bit of a panic, I had a friend drive me to the closest Med Point. The physician on duty was a female physician I'd known from the hospital where I worked, and we chatted for a bit as I explained my symptoms. The EKG she performed confirmed that I was in Atrial Fibrillation. AF is an irregular heart beat caused by abnormal conduction in the “light duty” upper atrial chambers of the heart that causes the large, muscular verticals below to contract in an irregular fashion. While it’s not immediately dangerous, the big hazard is that the blood that stagnates in the atrial chamber will form a clot that could lead to a stroke or heart attack.

The doctor then announced that she wanted to transport me to hospital by ambulance. Things were moving too fast! I said that before I went off to a hospital I’d like to call my daughter and discuss things.

I figured that if I went now, I might not make it to supper time. I knew from research that nearly 9 million people were hospitalized unnecessarily in 2001. Standard medical pharmacology texts admit that relatively few doctors ever report adverse drug reactions to the FDA. The reasons range from not knowing such a reporting system exists, to fear of being sued. Yet the public depends on this tremendously flawed system of voluntary reporting by doctors to know whether a drug or a medical intervention is harmful.(1)

An October 2003 JAMA article reported that the US government's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) documented that in 2000 there were 32,000 mostly surgery related deaths costing $9 billion and accounting for 2.4 million extra hospital days. The AHRQ director Carolyn M. Clancy, MD, noted that the study provides the first direct evidence that medical injuries pose a real threat to the American public, and that the problem is greatly underestimated.(2)

I knew also that since the early 1970s, the number of coronary artery bypass surgeries has risen rapidly without government regulation or clinical trials. Angioplasty was introduced in 1978 and the first published trial of angioplasty versus medical treatment was done much later in 1992. And angioplasty did not reduce the number of bypass surgeries as was promoted.(2)

I decided to walk! The physician, up until then reasonable, became irate and yelled that I could “die in the parking lot.” That shook me up enough to momentarily reconsider hospitalization, but then I simply began to wonder if she’d forgotten that I was a doctor, too. People can go for years in A-Fib. And, no one was going to give me the wrong drug "in the parking lot". I went home and started to look into alternatives to the usual things that are done for heart problems. Nothing motivates one to learn about an illness more than having that illness!

After much consideration I ended up choosing IV magnesium and chelation therapy, from Dr. Jan Smith. This protocol normalized my blood pressure and calmed my heart down enough to occasionally have a normal rhythm.

Having been on the receiving end of medical care I did learn a lot about heart problems that would make me more valuable to my patients:

Too often, too much is done to patients because they are vulnerable, suggestible, and have insurance that will cover things.

A colleague of mine went into to A-Fib at about the same time that I did. He let the docs at the VA drug him on Coumadin, give him general anesthesia and electrically attempt to “burn out” abnormal conduction pathways in his heart. I suggested that we optimize his thyroid and nutritional status while looking for alternatives, but he didn’t really seem interested.

He spent the next 6 months in chest pain and worried that they had burned a hole in his heart through to his esophagus, a not rare complication of the procedure that he had undergone. When he finally went back to VA, they repeated the procedure, put him on more prescription meds, and within 3 months, he had his first heart attack.

Instead of submitting immediately to risky and unnecessary procedures, insist on a careful, thorough evaluative attitude.

To further explore my options, I consulted an excellent Cardiologist, Dr. Daniel Scherb, whose careful, thorough attitude and reluctance to rush people into risky and unnecessary procedures has resulted in my sending him patients for years. He took a thorough History, did a good exam, and studied the EKG and Echocardiogram. He explained my options along with their risks and benefits. He gave me information on lifestyle changes, and other beneficial interventions.

Things that are done for Atrial Fib are often more of hazard than the condition itself.

Use of Coumadin is often listed as a mainstay of treatment, and some studies suggest that it lowers the risk of heart attack or stroke from 7 times normal to 4 or 5 times the rate of those without Atrial Fib. On the down side, Coumadin means walking a thin line between having blood that clots too readily and blood that is unable to clot to prevent bleeding into healthy tissues. AND, Coumadin use doubles the risk of dying from any type of trauma. Coumadin is also a vitamin K antagonist. The vitamin K family may play critical roles in diverse array of functions from maintaining bone density to providing resistance to cancer.

Another treatment option using Coumadin is Cardioversion. This entails about 12 weeks of Coumadin, general anesthesia, and an electric shock to the heart powerful enough to wipe out its own rhythm and hopefully, reestablish better one.

Although prescription drugs need to ostensibly show the FDA that they are both safe and effective; 150,000 deaths a year from these drugs, taken as prescribed, suggest otherwise. Neither Surgery nor any procedure needs to provide the least evidence of safety or effectiveness. And while I’m sure that most practitioners feel that they are doing right by their patients; my 36 years in Medical practice has seen far too many bad procedures blithely continued, much to the detriment of patients.

I believe that Mainstream Medicine is excellent in things like acute emergencies, but fails in manageable to long term, chronic problems. Too many drugs today simply address symptoms like high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, fatigue, and depression without actually addressing the underlying causes and potential for long term success. Most people in the United States are on some type of chronic medication. And, most of those people are taking more than one drug for long periods of time.

How am I doing now? The best medicine for me has been a regular exercise program, a healthier diet, drinking fish oil as if it were fine wine (Carlson’s is my favorite), and eating magnesium like imported chocolate. I’m taking Nattokinase to keep blood clots at bay, and can tell if I get too much because then I get spontaneous nose bleeds.

Of many excellent resources I would recommend reading "The Sinatra Solution: Metabolic Cardiology", a book written by Stephen T. Sinatra, MD, FACC, a forward thinking cardiologist who recognizes the role that the right supplements have in improving heart function and the quality of life.

I would advise everyone who has an experience similar to mine to:

1. Recognize that your doctor is your partner. He or she should help you arrive at a solution that is right for you, rather than attempting to hammer home their own rote way of doing things;

2. Understand that there is NO absolute authority on your health. You need to learn all you can about your problems, and then decide what works best for you.

Also, I offer a prayer that anyone who goes this route gets what they need to get well.



1. King G III, Hermodson A. Peer reporting of coworker wrongdoing: A qualitative analysis of observer attitudes in the decision to report versus not report unethical behavior. Journal of Applied Communication Research . 2000;(28), 309-29.

2. Death by Medicine, (the big picture): by Gary Null PhD, Carolyn Dean MD, Martin Feldman MD, Debora Rasio MD and Dorothy Smith PhD., Life Extension


    For more information visit the website of
    Donald Michael, MD
    Board Certified in Psychiatry and Board Eligible in Neurology
    with special interest in Thyroid, Adrenal, Chronic Fatigue,
    and Natural Hormone replacement for men and women.











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Updated 03/31/2011