Sports Exec Gets a Win After Shocking Heart Screening Result   

Sports Exec Gets a Win After Shocking Heart Screening Result

Don Heintz standing in the street in Red Bank smiling.

Don Hintze, a 59-year-old Red Bank, New Jersey, resident, wasn’t worried about his heart. His cholesterol was a little high, but he was a runner and had a normal EKG. So he figured his heart was healthy. 

When Don’s primary care provider, Joseph Boak, M.D., ended his annual preventive visit by mentioning the CT calcium scoring scan, Don didn’t think anything of it. It was just a routine heart screening—no different than preventative colonoscopy or a prostate exam.

Dr. Boak explained that the test is quick, simple and non-invasive, as well as inexpensive—just a few minutes in a CT scanner without contrast. “As part of my general assessment, I order a calcium score for patients in their 40s and 50s at medium risk for heart disease,” he says. “I think of it as a one-time crossroads test to take a look under the hood.”

Three-minute Investment Saves a Life

Don was shocked when got his results back. When Dr. Boak called with his results, he said they were the worst he had ever seen.

“It was the beginning of a wild, interesting year,” Don says. “Without that three-minute test, I wouldn’t be here today. I can’t preach enough that everyone should get this test. It’s the best money you could ever spend.”

Don quickly got in to see cardiologist Ravi Diwan, M.D. Dr. Diwan uses a patients’ calcium score results as a baseline to establish what further testing and interventions are necessary. “It’s an early warning test,” he says. “It opens a window to a patient’s heart health before the patient starts paying attention to any symptoms they may be having. Further testing puts the whole picture together.”

For Don, follow-up included a stress test and an echocardiogram with Dr. Diwan and a diagnostic catheterization with Matthew S. Schoenfeld, M.D. They determined that Don needed a quadruple bypass and there was no time to wait—he was at high risk of having a heart attack. David Johnson, M.D., performed the open-heart surgery at Jersey Shore University Medical Center just six weeks before Don’s daughter got married.

“Her wedding was the best day of my life, even though I was still recovering,” Don says. “I was one run on a hot summer day away from not being alive to dance at my daughter’s wedding. I will never lose sight of how lucky I am.”

Don and his daughter at her wedding.

Don giving a speech at his daughter's wedding.

Heart Disease Symptoms Overlooked 

Looking back, Don realized he had overlooked some symptoms of heart disease and was leading a lifestyle that put him at risk. He had brushed off trouble breathing in the first mile of his runs to aging. He dismissed an uncomfortable feeling at night as stress related to everyday life and balancing family and work—until 2018 he worked as vice president of publishing and consumer media for Major League Baseball. He attributed his tendency to “get crazy over simple things” and his love of food to his Italian heritage.

That’s not uncommon, says Dr. Diwan: “You don’t know what feeling good feels like until you feel good, so you get accustomed to feeling bad.”

Adds Don: “I had everyone fooled, including myself. What I did to my body I wouldn’t do to a car.”

Today, Don has cut back on work, adopted a mostly plant-based diet, takes his blood pressure daily, prioritizes sleep and is back to running. He’s grateful to be alive and well and is looking forward to the upcoming birth of his first grandchild.

He’s also an evangelist for the life-saving potential of the CT calcium scoring scan.

“The last time I saw Don, he told me I saved his life and begged me to get the same test done for myself,” Dr. Boak says. “He’s a wonderful guy and his first thought was to encourage me to take care of myself, so I thank him for that.”

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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