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Huntington Beach woman's diagnosis helps save life of husband

“Do you two do everything together?”

The question is an easy joke now for the Huntington Beach couple that underwent heart surgery within 10 days of each other and celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary in cardiac rehab.
Heart surgery makes the list of things Kelly and Bob Davis venture to do as a couple along with snorkeling, traveling and checking national parks off their bucket list.

Kelly Davis underwent double coronary artery bypass grafting, and her surgeon closed a coronary artery aneurysm on Dec. 15. Her husband followed with a quintuple coronary artery bypass on Dec. 24.

Doctors at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian said performing two heart surgeries within days of each other on a married couple is rare, but the story is made more compelling by the fact that Kelly Davis’ diagnosis potentially saved her husband’s life.

“What’s unusual with the Davis family is they were discovered to have … a potentially life-threatening condition within days apart,” said Subbarao Myla, Hoag’s director of cardiac catheterization laboratories. “I think … Kelly’s incident triggered a serious introspection on Bob, and it heightened the awareness and that made it possible to seek that medical attention quicker.”

Kelly Davis, 54, said she’s always considered herself “a healthy fat chick.”

With no major health concerns and no family history of heart issues, Kelly Davis said the heartburn she started to have in October didn’t alarm her, at first.

“It was never pressure,” she said. “I went to my family doctor … and always had good cholesterol, good blood work, good everything.”

But while setting up her Christmas tree in December, that heartburn-like feeling struck and didn’t go away.

“I thought, ‘I’m having a heart attack,’” she said.

Her thought was correct, and a followup appointment with Myla revealed Kelly Davis would need heart surgery.

“They were asking her all these questions about all the risk factors,” Bob Davis said. “Kelly had almost none, and almost every question they were asking her, I would be answering yes to. I had all the risk factors.”

Before his wife’s heart attack, Bob Davis, 58, had also been to his primary care doctor complaining of chest tightness – a symptom he had been dealing with since battling neck cancer in October 2011.

“It wasn’t anything really new to me,” he said. “I just thought it had to do with being out of shape.”
Myla pressed his fingers on Bob Davis’ wrists and could tell he had blockages.
Five, to be exact.

“He was a walking heart attack waiting to happen,” Kelly Davis said. TUNING IN
Although the surgical story of the Davises is rare, what landed them in the hospital is not.
Doctors said the experience of the Davises serves as a good reminder for residents to tune in to their health.

“You didn’t hear them describe pain,” said Anthony Caffarelli, co-director of cardiac surgery and the surgeon who performed both operations. “People often think a heart attack is associated with pain, but it’s usually not. It’s some other form of discomfort, pressure or tightness.”

Myla added that men often describe a heart attack as a tightness, while women tend to associate the feeling with heartburn.

“The key is recognizing something is different,” Myla said. “Men tend to adapt, they go along with it. Women tend to focus in.”

Kelly Davis is back to work as an office manager at Back Bay High School in Costa Mesa, while Bob is still recovering.

They both continue to attend rehab and are finding new things to do together, such as cooking low-sodium, low-fat meals and taking regular walks.

Bob Davis said he credits his wife’s experience with saving him from suffering a heart attack – something Kelly Davis said she doesn’t plan on letting him ever forget.

“I had a heart attack and he didn’t, so I win,” she joked. “And I get to use that for the rest of time.”