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Saturday, July 10, 2010
Emergency angioplasty saves coach's life
By TOM EVANS
Times Staff Writer
STAMFORD -- May 6 appeared to be just another Thursday for Curtis Tinnin, the head girls basketball coach at Stamford High School.
Tinnin, 52, who also serves as head of security for the school, then got his blood pressure checked at the nurse's office. Those numbers were an alarming 180 over 110, and Tinnin was told he needed to go to the hospital.
"I told (Assistant Principal Angela Thomas-Graves) that I was going home, and the nurse told me I shouldn't be driving," Tinnin said. "The assistant principal and I went back and forth about how I would get home. The time spent arguing with (Thomas-Graves) about how I would get home allowed for the heart attack to take hold."
While that development is never good news, the time spent arguing prevented Tinnin from being behind the wheel of his car when the heart attack hit.
"It was about 2:20 or 2:30 (p.m.) when I got up to make a phone call to my girlfriend," Tinnin said. "I felt a pain in my chest, and I was soaking wet with sweat."
An ambulance rushed the veteran of 16 years on the Black Knight sidelines to Stamford Hospital, where an emergency balloon angioplasty performed by Dr. Ted Portnay saved Tinnin's life.
"I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, because he was put in the right place at the right time by the ambulance crew," Portnay said. "We brought Curtis back to life (with defibrillator paddles). We told him he fell asleep for a few minutes and we started the procedure. We were able to identify a totally blocked artery that caused the heart attack. When he came in, Curtis had cardiac arrest. His heart rhythm was not sustainable for life."
Dr. Joonun "Chris" Choi was even more blunt about bringing Tinnin back from a brief death. Tinnin "flatlined" for a few seconds, according to Portnay.
"We shocked him back to life," Choi said. "We have a joke in cardiology that time is muscle. The fact we did this procedure so fast saved his heart. Two, three, four hours later (doing the procedure), Curtis would have been left with more permanent damage."
For his part, Tinnin -- who led Stamford to a 14-6 record last winter, including reaching the FCIAC quarterfinals and second round of the Class LL state tournament -- appreciates being whisked away to the hospital in the ambulance.
"This was one time where being stubborn saved my life -- and maybe someone else's," Tinnin said. "I don't want to think about (having a heart attack) in my car, when I could have rolled back into someone on the street. I'm thankful I'm here, and I'm thankful these guys were so close. Arguing with (Thomas-Graves) saved my life. It could have been my last day."
Tinnin began feeling some shortness of breath in December, after a two-point win at the buzzer at Fairfield Warde. Two games later he had more difficulty in Trumbull, and a few games later emergency medical service workers took him in for an electrocardiogram, where everything appeared normal.
As it turned out, there was some plaque in an artery, which was opened with catheterization -- but not the artery that would cause the heart attack and require the balloon catheter that put the "stent."
Portnay described the stent as a small, tubular cage "that acts as scaffolding to keep the artery open."
"An angioplasty is basically a balloon on a catheter, and it's threaded into the artery," Portnay said. "A wire acts as a rail to guide the stent. The balloon is inflated, with the stent crimped onto the balloon. The balloon opens, the stent is set in place, and then the balloon is taken out of the stent to keep the artery open."
Stamford Hospital has had this emergency angioplasty protocol and equipment for five years. Portnay said the hospital handles up to 50 patients a year in Tinnin's dire condition, while performing about 300 non-emergency angioplasty procedures each year.
"The Catheterization Lab staff is always on call, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," Portnay said. "The system is set to be mobilized within 30 minutes of a call. This is a multi-discipline team. We work very hard to keep it a well-oiled machine."
A restricted diet -- including eliminating saturated fats, sodas, sweets and restricting sodium intake -- will remind Tinnin of his close call.
Ever the optimist, Tinnin noted that during his ordeal and recovery he had lost nearly 20 pounds "and it didn't cost me anything in the gym."
Now back on half days as of June 1 -- "Dr. Choi wanted me home," Tinnin said, "but I wanted to do something" -- Tinnin is again looking ahead to his next coaching challenge.
"We've got a good-looking class coming in," Tinnin said of the 2010-11 Black Knights, which includes a 5-foot-10 prospect. "That's what keeps me going."