Heart health: How one test can help detect early heart disease

Heart Attack Scan | I-Team Investigation

A simple and affordable heart attack prevention test can help detect heart disease, even before symptoms are present.

The first time people learn they have heart disease it can already be too late.

Heart attacks are killing younger people and often times there were no previous warning signs.

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News Center 7’s Gabrielle Enright learned more about how people, especially those with a family history of heart disease, can get a head start on protecting their heart.

A young man from Beavercreek stole Jessica Pettit’s heart.

She married Jeremy Salerno in 1999.

“We were moving forward,” she said. “Going on with our lives. Getting serious about children.”

But on the morning of Sept. 25, 2007, Jessica would say goodbye to her husband for the last time.

“I remember sitting up and saying, ‘Are you leaving me already?’” she recalled. “And I don’t even remember why I said that, and he turned around with that beautiful smile and he said, ‘Yep.’ And that was it.”

In the end, it would be Jeremy’s heart that would tear the young couple apart.

A massive heart attack almost instantly killed the 38-year-old while he worked.

“You just don’t think something like that is going to happen,” Jessica said. “It was so devastating.”

For Jeremy’s mother, history was repeating itself. Heart disease had now taken two of the most important men in her life.

“It wasn’t until the doctor actually said he had the widowmaker that I said my father had that,” said Claire Salerno.

Her father died at 53. Claire was a teenager.

“You don’t want anyone to go through something like that,” she said. “We couldn’t say goodbye.”

Jeremy knew his family history, but he had always been healthy.

A few months before he died, Jeremy went to the doctor because he was tired, nauseous and had back pain.

Jessica said no one, not even his doctors, suspected the 38-year-old’s heart was in trouble.

“All of the signs and symptoms were there and it just wasn’t clicking,” Jessica said.

Overall, heart disease kills 26,000 Ohioans every year.

Many of them were young and looked healthy like Jeremy, but had a genetic time bomb ticking.

That’s why it’s so important to know about a cheap and simple test that you can set up on your own.

It’s a coronary calcium scan or cardiac computed tomography.

During the test, a CT scanner finds calcium buildup.

Even if the patient doesn’t have any symptoms, the test’s score can help find early heart disease or stroke trouble.

Many hospitals in the Miami Valley offer the self-referral test for around $100 out of pocket.

But many people aren’t aware of the test.

Thomas Broadbeck said if he hadn’t received a flyer in the mail about the scan, he would have never known about it.

“I’m the first male Broadbeck in my family history to make it to my 60th birthday without some kind of heart event,” he said. “If I’ve got a problem, I want to know what it is so I can go to work and attack it.”

Thomas passed his test.

Medical professionals say people no matter their age need to know your risk factors — especially people with a family heart event history, like Thomas.

Eventually, the test is recommended for everyone.

“For men, we still say starting at 45,” said Barb Emrick, manager of the Center for Heart and Vascular Health at Kettering Health Network. “Women, they tend to develop the disease 10 years later. So for women we say 55.”

Two years after Jeremy died, his father Lou had a heart attack.

He recovered, and since then, everyone in the Salerno family has had a heart screening.

“There’s nothing wrong with getting checked and taking care of yourself,” Jessica said.

She doesn’t know if the test would have saved Jeremy.

But she believes, with all her heart, that it could save someone else.

“If you do have symptoms, push harder,” she said. “Ask. It’s not impossible for someone who looks totally and completely healthy to drop over dead from a heart attack the next day.”

More than a decade after Jeremy’s death, Jessica and the Salernos are still close.

In 2012, she married Tom Pettit, a man she’s known for years from her hometown Enon.

“[The Salernos] really love him and have taken him in,” she said. “That really helps. He feels like a part of this family.”

That family is on a mission to save lives in honor of the man they loved and lost.

“I don’t want this to happen to others,” Jessica said.