Cheyenne Man Saved by Million Hearts Program

Craig Kirkwood is an active man. He takes two cardio classes a week, lifts weights, plays golf, used to caddy and averages around 12,000 steps a day. On paper, he was relatively healthy.

“I thought my health was fabulous,” Kirkwood said. “I saw the poster for the Million Hearts program every day at work and I ignored it. I didn’t think I needed it.”

Kirkwood, a former lawyer and judge, was gainfully retired when he started working for Healthcare & High-Risk Security Services at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and was inundated with advertisements for the Million Hearts Initiative multiple times a day.

“When I was working as a security guard for HSS and I was walking around the hospital multiple times a day, I saw that poster every time I walked out of the café and then finally one day I just said, out loud, ‘Okay! I see you. I’ll go get checked out!’” Kirkwood recalled with a chuckle.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States, causing over 800,000 deaths each year – and that number has not been declining. The Million Hearts Initiative is working to change that.

The nationwide initiative is focused on preventing at least one million cardiovascular events, such as heart disease, stroke or heart attack, over the next five years. Clinics that participate in Million Hearts assess patients and estimate how likely they are to have a cardiovascular event and then work with them to cut out risk factors such as tobacco use, high sodium intake and little to no exercise.

When Kirkwood went in for his assessment, his chance of having a heart attack was determined to be less than five percent.

“I went to Cheyenne Cardiology Associates and did my nuclear stress test and everything looked great. My blood pressure was normal and my cholesterol was right on point. Then we did a CT scan of my heart,” he said.

Craig Kirkwood Million Hearts
Craig Kirkwood remains active after Drs. Alqaqa’a and Feringa discovered a blocked artery.

The CT scan told a different story. As healthy as he is, Kirkwood still had a family history of heart health concerns, and his left anterior descending artery was 90 percent blocked. He was on the cusp of having a “widowmaker” heart attack.

“I had taken off to Centennial for the day after my appointment, and I didn’t have any phone service. When I got back to town, I had seven missed phone calls, and I wrote them off as nuisance calls, but there was a voicemail from Dr. (Ahmad) Alqaqa’a,” Kirkwood said. “He gave me his personal phone number and told me to call him immediately. I was in the catheterization
lab the next morning at 7:30 to have two stints put in.”

He had no normal symptoms of heart disease leading up to participating in the Million Hearts Initiative. He wasn’t dizzy and didn’t experience any chest pain and, yet, he coded twice while he was in surgery, but was revived.

“I’m just extremely grateful for Doctors Alqaqa’a and (Herman) Feringa. I tell everyone I can about this program. Even if you’re certain you’re healthy, it’s important to get checked out,” Kirkwood said.

Despite his setback, he still remains active and positive.

“I still golf, fish and hike around Snowy Range, and I’m just thrilled to death that I live in the beautiful state of Wyoming.”