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That funny feeling in your chest? It's not so amusing

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
Post-dance, Leland Bassett felt exhausted and dizzy, possible warning signs of a heart attack.

Leland Bassett spent Valentine's Day dancing with Martha Reeves at the Roostertail. Then he won the door prize: a triple bypass.

Not quite 31/2 years ago, I went him one better — a quadruple bypass, or as I prefer to think of it, a grand slam.

Whereas Bassett is an unlikely candidate to have a circle saw bisect his breastbone, I was the training film for how to clog your arteries. But we do have one thing in common:

We paid attention to what our exasperated bodies were trying to tell us. And you should, too.

OK, I paid attention eventually. When my body speaks to me, it usually says, "Got any more Cheetos?"

But Bassett caught on right away. It turns out that most men do, especially compared to women, who need to listen up.

That's the key, Bassett says, and that's why he's talking publicly about his surgery, which is expected to go swimmingly today at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

"A little plumbing fix," he calls it, in which doctors opted to "replace the piping (rather) than trying to clean out the rust."

He should be home by next Tuesday and back on the job, sort of, the Monday after that, handling light duty from his Barcalounger for one of Detroit's longest-tenured communications firms.

And again: He'll get to do that because he paid attention.

Singer Martha Reeves, performing last year in Beverly Hills, Calif., spent Valentine’s Day at a party at the Roostertail, where she and public relations guru Leland Bassett had a great time on the dance floor.

Dancing in the ... OR

Bassett, 69, owns the aptly named Bassett & Bassett with his wife, Tina. They like to say that they live in Detroit and sleep in Farmington Hills, where they moved after they shed their kids and downsized from North Rosedale Park.

They are out and about more than they are in and sedate, and Diane and Tom Schoenith's "Dancing at the Roostertail" party seemed like a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Bassett loves to dance, and not only was there a big band on site, there was Reeves, the former Motown star and fellow enthusiastic dancer.

"It was like a micro Motown Review act," he says. They closed down the dance floor.

But then, surprisingly, he felt tired. Exhausted, really. And breathless. And dizzy later, which started the dominoes falling toward poking, prodding, an angiogram and today's operation.

The irony, he says, is that "I am a lifelong fitness nut." He's done yoga for 30 years, and he's been a vegetarian for the same three decades.

Lurking inside him, though, was a genetic condition, waiting to wreak mayhem.

"The reality is," he says, "that I was a walking time bomb, and the Valentine experience wound up saving my life."

Heeding the body's call

The obvious conclusion is that insurance companies should cover dance lessons.

Not so obvious, says cardiologist Joan Crawford of St. John Macomb-Oakland Hospital in Warren, is that "not everybody has TV-quality symptoms."

When the proverbial elephant hunkers down on your chest, your jaw hurts, you can't breathe and your left arm hurts, the conclusion is clear — and men tend to reach it within five minutes, says Crawford, who's also a longtime volunteer with the American Heart Association branch in Southfield.

The same women who leap into action and order their husbands to the hospital, however, will stay home an average of 12 hours before getting help for themselves.

"They have to make lunch for Sally," Crawford says, "or they promised their husband they'd pick up the dry cleaning, or they want to take a shower before they leave the house."

The net result is that women's first heart attacks are far more likely than men's to be fatal. So they should be extra-alert for warning signs, including what she calls the silent ones.

Can't mow the whole lawn without resting when it wasn't a problem last year? Could be trouble. Pain in the right arm, or between the shoulder blades? Ditto.

Dizziness, fainting, just generally feeling lousy? Could be a telegram from your internal organs.

"Your own brain can get in the way," Crawford says: "Oh, I ate some sort of bad sandwich."

Maybe, but it would have to be remarkably awful. You're better off heading to the doctor's office, or even the emergency room.

Tell 'em Leland Bassett sent you — and Martha Reeves sent him.