© Paul Hutchings
Deer Lake recreation director Junior Pinksen suffered a massive heart attack over the summer.
DEER LAKE To say that it wasn’t a very good summer for Junior Pinksen would be an understatement.
At the end of June, the Town of Deer Lake’s recreation director suffered a major heart attack. Upon arriving at the hospital it was discovered he had five arterial blockages — two at 100 per cent — and was eventually airlifted to the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s where an arterial bypass surgery was performed.
He admits to being in denial when it first started happening, especially since he’s only 42 years old.
“I exercise, I walk, I’m a referee — when it first started happening I really thought it was just gas or something,” he said. “My wife is a nurse (so) she took my pulse and insisted we go to the hospital right away.”
When it happened, Pinksen was in on the planning for the Tara Oram concert during the Deer Lake Strawberry Festival. He walked down the stairs of a hardware store where he was picking out pieces for the stage and felt something wrong, a tightness in his chest, which he said was actually familiar.
“I’ve felt that before but when I would move or exercise it would go away. The doctor said that happens to some people,” he said. “I got home and I still thought it would be OK.
“I was a typical male I guess, but something wasn’t right.”
Upon being brought to the Western Memorial Regional Hospital it was determined officially that it was a heart attack and Pinksen was eventually given the TNK drug, known as the clot buster in some medical circles. He was taken to St. John’s a few days later and had the surgery July 5. The surgeon took arteries from his leg and the upper part of his chest to be sewn into his heart.
But to the dismay of Pinksen, his family and his doctors, it didn’t end there. Pinksen became a rare case, developing pancreatitis after the surgery. He was treated for that, then developed complications from a blood clot in his lung.
Other chest complications came about, and Pinksen — who had four tubes sticking out of his chest by that point — started to wonder if he would see the end of the surgeries.
“Fortunately I didn’t develop a chest infection. They tell me if that had happened, it would have been even worse,” he said. “Getting those chest tubes taken out was the worst pain I have ever felt.”
He was awake when the tubes were removed. He passed out, and nurses wondered if he was suffering from another heart attack. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Like most people who suffer a brush with death, Pinksen said he does feel a little different these days. He is down about 40 pounds and Deer Lake residents may see him on his daily walks around the town, which he has started doing as part of a fitness regimen.
He said he is taking as many precautions as he can to be around for his family as long as he can be.
“You do start to put things into perspective pretty quickly. You start to think about family and everything,” he said. “I was fortunate to have my wife — I had my own personal nurse the whole time — so I was so lucky there.”
Pinksen, a father of two, said he comes by his heart problems “honestly.” Last year his mother, Deer Lake Deputy Mayor Sandra Pinksen, suffered from similar heart problems for which she needed surgery. His father has also suffered from heart issues.
Fairly well known around town, Pinksen admitted to being amazed at how many well-wishers he has coming up to him, giving him hugs and handshakes. He received cards and letters from people he never thought would remember him and he said he is grateful for all of them.
He is also thankful to the health care system, which both here and in St. John’s, he said, treated him extremely well.
Heart surgery patients are usually told to reduce added stress to their lives, and Pinksen said he is very on board with that advice.
“That’s something else you put into perspective, when you’re able to analyze it rationally, you realize that most stress in your life really isn’t necessary,” he said. “Do your job, do whatever you have to do but remember that you can’t please everyone.”
He hopes to be back to work in October.