MAHOPAC, N.Y. - After more than two months away from Town Hall to recuperate from open-heart surgery in the wake of a heart attack, Supervisor Ken Schmitt was back behind the dais last Wednesday night (March 11) to run the Town Board meeting.
Schmitt, who ran unopposed last November, is serving his seventh two-year term as Carmel’s top elected official. When he finishes, it will make a total of 14 years on the job—the longest-tenured Carmel supervisor since 1899.
At last week’s meeting, Schmitt spoke about how he felt some chest pains at the conclusion of a meeting back in January but dismissed them as heartburn or some similar malady.
“I thought it was acid reflux or GERD or heartburn or something and being a guy, we ignore those signs and don’t do anything about it,” he said. “I went home and took some Tums and a Prilosec and went to bed. The pain had subsided, but at 4 o’clock in the morning I woke up with this terrible pain across my chest again. So, something was clearly wrong, I didn’t know what it was. But I still didn’t do anything about it at that point. But then the next day, I had the same pains again.”
Schmitt told his daughter-in-law, who is a cardiac care nurse, about what was happening.
“She said, ‘I think it’s more than what you think it is and you should get it checked out,’” he said. “It turns out, she was right.”
Schmitt went to Putnam Hospital Center and when he told them what he was experiencing, they sent him directly to the ER where he was given an EKG.
“The doctor read the results and said, ‘Mr. Schmitt, you are having a heart attack right now,’” he said.
He was transported to Danbury Hospital because it has a cardiac catheterization unit.
“As soon as the ambulance pulled up, there was a team waiting to bring me in,” he recalled.
The exam began. Doctors inserted a camera into the supervisor’s wrist, up his arm, across his chest, and into the heart.
“The doctor said I was not a candidate for stents, I had multiple blockages in my arteries,” he said. “I needed open-heart surgery.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my God. I’m 62. I haven’t had any health issues,’” he continued. “I don’t have any heart issues in my family. I don’t smoke. I’m not diabetic. I’m not overweight.
“After six and a half hours [of surgery] I had a quadruple bypass times two, eight ways,” he added. “They took arteries out of my arm, my chest and my leg. It was successful, thank God.”
Schmitt said he was one of the lucky ones and shouldn’t have ignored the painful warning signs.
“If I didn’t get there when I did, it could have been really bad,” he said. “I could have had a massive heart attack, and they wouldn’t have been able to help me. If your body is telling you something, listen to it. Don’t ignore it like I did. Get to your doctor.
“I was fortunate because I had the early-warning signs,” he continued. “Some people don’t. The message I am trying to get across is please get yourself tested.”
It’s been nine weeks since the surgery and Schmitt said his recovery has been going great.
“I am walking 3 miles a day. I am doing really well,” he said. “I had to change my diet. I am eating heart-healthy food. I lost 10 pounds and feel pretty good.”
Schmitt said he was grateful for the support he’s received from his family and the community and that it aided in his recuperation.
“Thank God for my three children and my daughters-in-law,” he said. “They were constantly by my side. My family was extremely supportive. And I can’t tell you how many people reached out to me to extend well wishes. A food train was started, and I had about 50 heart-healthy meals sent to my house. I want to thank everybody who sent a meal, flowers, a card or a text. It meant a lot to me.”
Schmitt said he was thrilled to be back on the job he loves so much.
“I feel great and I’m really happy to be back to something I’ve really enjoyed doing for the past 13 years. I want to continue to do it,” he said.
He also gave kudos to Suzi McDonough, his deputy supervisor, who stepped in for the eight weeks he was out.
“She did a great job. She actually took a leave of absence from her work in order to be here all day,” he said. “The board really covered for me while I was out, we didn’t skip a beat and things really got done.”
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