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Denise Burckhalter

Physicians want people to know the most common symptoms of heart attack. They and organizations such as the American Heart Association have spent decades going over it again and again in the hopes that it sinks in. But sometimes, even potential heart trouble can creep up without you ever knowing it.

Denise Burckhalter, of North Augusta, is a living testament to the technology used every day at University Hospital to help diagnose cardiac problems.

Mrs. Burckhalter's story began in the spring of 2008. Her husband Charles had recently turned 60, and the couple asked their family physician if Charles should make an appointment with a cardiologist - just to make sure everything was OK.

"Dr. (David) Parler suggested that my husband go to University Hospital to get a CT (computed tomography) scan for a calcium score," she said. "Dr. Parler said we'd take it from there."

On the spur of the moment, the 58-year-old Mrs. Burckhalter decided to join her husband at University for the screening, which is used to find early stage heart disease by looking at the amount of calcium in plaque that might be on the walls of the heart's arteries.

During the test, Mr. Burckhalter found he had small amounts of calcification that are common for his age.

Mrs. Burckhalter, on the other hand, got the shock of her life.

 "I have to say, before I went in, I had no problems," she said with a laugh. "I felt great." That is, until she got the results, which said her calcium score was 1,100. "You want to have 0, and 400 is considered to be pretty bad," she said.

A battery of tests were performed and soon after, Mrs. Burckhalter had surgery and five bypasses.

Mrs. Burckhalter is well on the road to recovery now after a stint at University Hospital's Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation unit ("That is the best thing I could have done," she said about the experience.) and she's now a devoted cheerleader for CT scanning and cardiac calcium scoring.

"We have sent at least a dozen people over to get the test done," she said, laughing. "My husband grabbed a handful of brochures about the test and we pass them out whenever we can."

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