Gary Cooke
Special to The Union

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December 10, 2012
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Exercise enthusiast not   immune to cardiac problems

From a health standpoint, Jim Heard didn’t just do everything right. Many would say he overdid everything.

Running laps wasn’t enough. Marathon races weren’t enough. He had to try 100-mile endurance runs, as well — at least three of them. Peddling around the neighborhood didn’t do it for him. He’d ride 50 miles or more and think little of it. As a matter of fact, he had just completed a 100 mile bike ride. He was — and still is — an avid golfer. His cholesterol was high, but he took medication for 25 years to keep it under control.

“I did everything I was supposed to,” Heard said.

So it was rather a shock when, at age 67, he discovered one of his carotid arteries was 99 percent blocked.

Heard spent his life in health care. He started as chief tech in the lab at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH) in 1971 and retired after 40 years, as vice president of professional services, overseeing the lab, radiology, pharmacy, rehabilitation, cardiology and cancer services, among other duties.

The discovery of his nearly blocked artery is linked to his work at the hospital.

When SNMH installed its new heart CT scanning equipment, doctors needed to test it and Heard volunteered. That’s how he discovered some cholesterol buildup. Heard decided to speak with his physician, and together they decided he would have a screening ultrasound, which revealed 85-90 percent blockage. The CT Angiogram test found his carotid almost closed. Surgery repaired a section of that artery, and now, two years later, Heard is as active as ever.

“I was walking six or seven miles two days after my surgery,” he said. “Now I run five miles four days a week, and then maybe go and do 18 holes of golf.” He often rides his bike down to Folsom to visit his son.

“I’m a lucky dude,” he said. “I could have had a stroke.”

Dr. Ryan Smith, a board certified cardiologist with the Dignity Health Medical Group at Sierra Nevada, described Heard as a perfect case-in-point illustrating the importance of the hospital’s Heart Wellness Screening program.

“He showed no symptoms but had serious arterial disease,” he said.

“I’m part of a team that started this program because we needed to find a way to discover problems before they lead to a heart attack,” Smith said. “Our goal is to find arterial disease years before it’s expected to cause a problem, to look for actual heart disease rather than just identifying risk factors.”

The hospital’s 64-slice CT scanner allows clear images of the heart through its speed and the use of special software.

“With our equipment, it’s like the heart is holding still,” Smith explained. Ultrasound and other diagnostic equipment is also used.

The hospital has kept the cost of a heart wellness screening under $200, he said, because it’s not covered by insurance. Screening is appropriate for men over 50 and women over 55, Dr. Smith said, especially if they already have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, or if there is a family history of coronary disease.

For information about the Heart Wellness Screening, call the SNMH Diagnostic Imaging Center at (530) 274-6262 or visit

All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.

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The Union Updated Dec 10, 2012 10:46PM Published Dec 13, 2012 12:31PM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.