Patient Story

Cliff’s story: Wife helps save husband from the widowmaker


Cliff Shelton has lived a relatively healthy lifestyle. He’s always been in good shape, maintained a healthy weight and diet, had normal blood pressure, and managed his cholesterol with medication. 

As physical education specialists and teachers at Greater Atlanta Christian School for 42 years, Cliff and his wife Kristy love to be outdoors during their free summer months; however, this past summer, Cliff started noticing a sharp pain at the base of his throat during their walks and hikes, and even when mowing the lawn. Every time Cliff experienced this pain, Kristy noticed he would grab the base of his throat. 

Cliff didn’t think much of it and chalked it up to a case of indigestion, and even though Kristy pushed him to see a doctor, he admitted he didn’t think it was urgent. 

One morning, Kristy joined her colleagues for prayer and noticed one of them was clutching the base of her throat as she recounted a story of a former school community member who had done so before being scheduled to undergo bypass surgery. Kristy quickly put the pieces together, recalling that Cliff would grab his throat whenever he felt the pain, and realized he must be experiencing the same thing. She immediately called Cliff and they scheduled an appointment with their physician the next day. 

Cliff_daughterCliff underwent a series of tests over the next two weeks and during a cardiac catheterization at Northside Hospital Gwinnett, a major blockage was discovered in his left artery. Within a couple of hours, Cliff was undergoing emergency double bypass surgery.

“If I had had any cardiac event, it would have been a true widowmaker,” Cliff recalled. “Literally INSTANT death.” 

His doctor, Dr. Lourens Willekes, told him that 90% of his left artery was blocked and 95% of the main artery was blocked, but remarkably, his pristine right artery is what kept him going. 

Since his surgery, Cliff has been in excellent health and has returned to work. “Everything is back to normal,” Cliff said. His wife added, “He goes for long walks, has no physical restrictions, and enjoys walking around the school campus stocking concession stands.” 

The Sheltons are incredibly touched by the experience and level of personal care they received at Northside. They find it hard to put into words, as they were incredibly impressed with everyone they met and with those who took care of them. 

“The level of care was extraordinary,” said Cliff. “I was truly blown away." 

There are a lot of “what ifs” in this story and “it’s terrifying to think about those,” said Kristy. Cliff and Kristy are beyond grateful they caught Cliff’s condition when they did and how they did. 

Even though Cliff was never the person to run to the doctor for anything, he now tells everyone that if something doesn’t feel right, don’t deny it. They should go get it checked out. Through this incident, Cliff admitted he’s more self-aware and conscious about his health and the health of others. 

Learn more about Northside Hospital Heart Institute and cardiac surgery at Northside. 



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