Jerry Chiaverini, 60, was out riding his bike in July when he first noticed pressure in his chest.
He attributed the tightness to indigestion — and didn't want to trouble health care providers — so he continued on his way.
Chiaverini returned to his home in Duluth's Morgan Park neighborhood and shared his symptoms with his wife, Lora Lee Chiaverini. They both agreed to monitor the symptoms, but his chest tightness continued flaring up when he went walking and then when mowing the lawn several days later.
Lora Lee, a registered nurse at Duluth's St. Luke's hospital, knew it was time for him to seek medical help. Jerry was initially hesitant to visit a health care provider, as he was concerned about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and thought his chest tightness might not be serious.
Thankfully, his wife was adamant.
"I don't want you to die from doubt. I don't want you to sit here and die," she said.
Due to heart blockage they found during his initial and follow-up visits, Jerry Chiaverini needed triple-bypass surgery. He underwent the procedure several weeks ago.
"I didn't realize it was going to be that serious," he said.
Chiaverini's story reflects a troubling trend: People are visiting health care providers at much lower rates. Since the pandemic began, visits to emergency departments have fallen by 42%, according to the American Heart Association.
Lora Lee wouldn't have known to bring Jerry to a health care provider if it wasn't for her knowledge of the "Don’t Die of Doubt" campaign, she said.
The campaign, which she learned from a work email, encourages people to take their symptoms seriously and seek medical care if they experience heart attack or stroke symptoms — even during the pandemic.
"That 'don't die of doubt' kept playing over and over in my head. ... I (didn't) want to see you just sit here and do nothing and have something tragic happen," Lora Lee said. "Even though we were scared, we had to act on it."
The American Heart Association created the campaign due to the "critical" issue of adults fearing medical service. An online survey of over 2,000 adults conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of association found that more than 1 in 4 survey respondents would rather stay home than risk a COVID-19 infection at a hospital when experiencing heart attack or stroke symptoms.
Among heart attack symptoms are chest discomfort, discomfort in other upper body areas and shortness of breath, while stroke symptoms include a drooping face, arm weakness, difficulties with speech and more, according to the American Heart Association.
"It's sometimes hard to convince people that (their symptoms) could be something serious," Lora Lee.
Jerry is still recovering from his surgery, which ended up only being a triple-bypass surgery as his heart was healthy from his routine physical activity.
"Every day seems to be getting a little bit better," he said.
Jerry is still attending rehab, and won't be back to work at Heritage Window and Door in Superior for six more weeks.
"It just takes time to heal up and get back into it because you're down for so long," he said.