Stephen Wright nearly mistook a heart attack for indigestion. But a pilot cardiac rehabilitation program he championed as part of his job, now helped him get back on his feet.

News, Your Health | 6 years ago

39 and Healthy: He's Proof that Heart Attacks Can Happen to Anyone

Stephen Wright nearly mistook a heart attack for indigestion. But a pilot cardiac rehabilitation program he championed as part of his job, now helped him get back on his feet.


Stephen Wright’s chest burned. It was a Thursday morning in June 2017. He pushed the pain aside, summing it up to indigestion. After all, he was 39 years old with a clean bill of health.

The following day, the assistant vice president of Invasive Cardiology at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute went to work. But the pain persisted, and he knew that something else was wrong. Still in pain, Wright went to the Emergency Department at Carolinas Medical Center.

Upon his arrival, care teams jumped into action, quickly discovering Wright was having a heart attack. He underwent a heart catherization, where doctors found a blockage in Wright’s right coronary artery.

“Don’t wait,” Wright says. “Looking back, I had all the signs and symptoms, but didn’t take the time to listen to my body.”

The following Monday, he was discharged from Carolinas Medical Center. But, Wright’s journey to recovery was just beginning. William Downey, MD, medical director for Interventional Cardiology, recommended Wright enter cardiac rehabilitation, a crucial step toward reducing the risk of advancing heart disease.

Wright was hesitant at first to try cardiac rehabilitation, but found comradery with other patients who were going through a similar experience.

“I talk about the importance of rehab with my role at Sanger, but now I appreciate the ‘why.’ Having the support of others in rehab truly made a difference in my recovery,” Wright says. “Completing the program was one of the best decisions I’ve made.”

A multi-disciplinary team – comprised of doctors, exercise physiologists, a registered nurse and a registered dietitian – worked with Wright both in-person at the Carolinas HealthCare System Pineville facility and remotely.

The process was not nearly as time-consuming as Wright expected, thanks to Cardiac Rehab “To Go,” a new form of cardiac rehab being piloted by staff at CHS Pineville. Using the MyAtriumHealth app from a mobile device, patients in the later stages of rehabilitation can check in with hospital staff by remotely logging their progress.

“The new option for cardiac rehabilitation is a game-changer, increasing access for patients who may have trouble accessing reliable transportation to one of the clinics and helping others with busy schedules,” says John Cedarholm, MD, interventional cardiologist and medical director of Cardiac rehabilitation at Carolinas HealthCare System Pineville and Carolinas HealthCare System Union.

For Wright, teaching others about heart health has taken on a new meaning.

“It could happen to anybody. Do everything you can do to know – and reduce – your risk factors. You can’t change genetics, but you can exercise, eat right, don’t smoke – there are a lot of things you can do to reduce your risk,” he says.

On February 17, Wright will be running in this year’s Cupid’s Cup race.

Funds raised through the 5K and 1-mile walk will allow CHS Pineville, CHS SouthPark and CHS Union to continue to provide the Cardiac Rehab To Go pilot program to patients free of charge. Proceeds will also help cover many patients’ medical expenses associated with traditional cardiac rehabilitation at CHS.

“The pilot program really gave me peace of mind knowing that I was doing everything that I should be doing and doing it safely,” says Wright. “It’s a wonderful feeling to know I am helping others get the most advanced cardiac care possible – both every day in my role at Sanger and through my participation in the annual Cupid’s Cup.”

The Cupid Cup 5K and 1-Mile Walk will take place on February 17, beginning outside of CMC-Myers Park . For more information or to register for the event, visit

A healthy heart lets you stay focused on doing what you love. Learn how Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute can help you keep your heart healthy.