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The blockage in Dion's heart was called the Widow Maker. It alone could have killed him.
One in every three deaths in this country are caused by cardiovascular disease. It takes the lives of 2,200 Americans every day.
But let’s face it, not many people really think they’re a candidate for a heart attack. WUSA9’s Bruce Johnson certainly didn't 20 years ago. Neither did his co-worker Dion Wiggins.
IT WAS JUST ANOTHER DAY
“We got a call a little before 9:00 in the morning. Was experiencing chest pain along with some trouble breathing," said medic Chris Abrahams.
The man needing help was Dion Wiggins, a WUSA9 co-worker and friend.
It was January 3rd. Dion was in cardiac arrest. He was on the job, parked on the side of busy I-395 during morning rush hour.
“Honestly I kept saying, please God just help me. I don't know what is going on, but God help me. God help me. I kept saying it,” Dion recalled.
His day had started out like any other. As part of the WUSA9 morning team, he had reported for work at 2:45 a.m. It was a wet and cold morning. Dion was assigned to get weather video in our StormTracker vehicle.
“So, I'm on 495 near the Pentagon, Jefferson Davis Highway, and I just pull over because it is bumper-to-bumper traffic. And it's raining hard. And it's a cold rain. I get out with the camera and start getting video, and I'm starting to feel a little funny," Dion described.
That funny feeling quickly turned to acute pain.
“The pain was rushing from my stomach, and then it started getting into my chest area. It felt like I was in a choke hold or something,” he recalled. “Then I started getting short breaths, and I started to sweat. And I was like, this isn't right. I kept going this ain't right. This ain't right. Then I just slumped over right in the middle of the console.”
Dion had just turned 50. For his birthday, he showed up in the newsroom with a flashing head dress to mark the half century.
“The right arm just went numb,” he said. “So, I picked up the phone and put it up to this hand, and put my code in and dialed 911.”
The Arlington County Fire and EMS dispatcher kept Dion on the phone until help arrived.
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“He was in distress; The pain looked real,” recalled Chris, the medic who responded to Dion’s call. “Really, really severe chest pain right in the center of his chest was starting to radiate to the left side of his chest. Right arm was numb, experiencing some nausea, had not thrown up yet, but he was not in good shape.”
Chris was in Medic 109. He and firefighter Jason Griffith were part of the Arlington County Rescue team that got Dion stabilized and transported to George Washington University hospital in the District.
“They found pretty much what we found: that he had a very severe blockage. And they were going to try to open that up,” Chris said.
IT’S A WIDOW MAKER
Dion had blockages in three of his arteries.
“One of my main arteries, on the right side, was completely blocked.”
That blockage is called the Widow Maker. It alone could have killed him.
“I got the pictures. I wanted to see the procedure and they showed me how the artery was like this one big blob,” Dion described.
His wife Karen found out through a phone call from the hospital.
“She said he is in the emergency room. We have him on the table. And I said what do you mean on the table?” Karen recalled.
She was told her husband had a massive heart attack and doctors needed to fix it right away.
“And I said I'll be there.”
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Karen said Dion looked scared when she first saw him at the hospital.
“I just hugged him and had to get beyond everything that was hooked up to him. You could just sense there was fear,” she said.
MEETING HIS ‘ANGEL’
Dion was back on his feet, but not back on the job when he paid WUSA9 coworkers a visit last week.
But that wasn’t the only reunion in store for the heart attack survivor.
While interviewing his coworker and friend, Bruce Johnson surprised Dion with the man who helped save his life, a man Dion called his angel.
“Oh my God, are you…” Dion fell silent and stood up to give his lifesaver a hug and a thank you.
“I'm sorry, may I give you a hug please?” Karen asked, wiping tears from her eyes. “Thank you so much!”
“I’m so glad to see you like this. That day, it was tough,” Chris recalled.
The reunion nearly left Dion at a loss for words.
“I'm just glad that you guys knew exactly what to do. Because I felt it was like over. That it was over,” Dion said. “I didn't want to give up. I kept asking God to tell me what was wrong. And then when you guys got there you knew immediately.”
WUSA9's #HeartLove project: Informing & inspiring you to live healthier
A SECOND CHANCE
Dion said he’s looking at this as a second chance at life, to not make the mistakes he made in the past, and to re-evaluate his priorities.
“The first one is my relationship with God. Second is my family. Trying to spend more time with them versus how I used to be in the past. I used to be work, work, work,” Dion said.
"What I have learned now is, I just need to slow it down. And kind of enjoy life a little bit better."