Dan Cummings is a familiar face to most Central New Yorkers, having been an award-winning reporter and anchor at WSYR-TV NewsChannel 9 in Syracuse for 37 years. At the end of 2021, Cummings, then 65, announced his retirement and looked forward to starting the next chapter of his life.
Part of that next chapter was getting back into shape. An experienced runner, Cummings had tackled marathons and numerous other local races, but he had let his fitness routine slide during the pandemic. Now, with more time on his hands, he decided to get back on the treadmill in January of 2022.
But, something was different. “I knew I was out of shape, but I also knew it shouldn’t be this hard,” he says of his workouts. Still, Cummings had no shortness of breath or pain, so he didn’t think much of it. He was eating and sleeping well, didn’t have high blood pressure or high cholesterol and had never been a smoker. He knew he had a yearly physical coming up on March 1, so he carried on.
Two months later at his physical, he told his primary physician, Mark Erlebacher, MD, that he still just didn’t feel right while working out. Dr. Erlebacher ordered a stress test as a precaution, but Cummings wasn’t overly concerned.
On March 17, Cummings went in for the stress test and failed it. “They told me my heart was working harder than it should during the test, and that indicated a blockage. Cardiologist Kwabena Bohene, MD, wanted me to go to the catheterization lab at Crouse as soon as possible,” Cummings explained.
Cummings recalled feeling unusually calm when he arrived at Crouse the next morning. “From the moment I was in the cath lab, every person there was ‘solid gold,” reassuring me and explaining everything that was going to happen,” he said. “They all told me, ‘This is going to be OK. Dr. Ulahannan is going to take care of you.’” Cummings took comfort in their words, particularly because he knew if the catheterization was not successful he could be facing bypass surgery.
He quickly realized how fortunate he was to be in the skilled hands of Crouse cardiologist John Ulahannan, MD, and his team, as what is typically a 45-minute procedure turned into a challenging two hours. Cummings was sedated but awake, and, in retrospect, he realized there was growing concern in the room as the minutes ticked by. Not only did Ulahannan discover a 95 percent blockage in Cumming’s left anterior descending artery (LAD), which is often referred to as a “widowmaker” due to its severity, but the doctor was having difficulty placing the stents due to calcium build up in that artery.
Dr. Ulahannan decided to try the Shockwave Intravascular Lithotripsy System. Only approved by the FDA in 2021, this technology uses a catheter to create pressure waves that break up calcification restricting blood flow in the arteries.
“Dr. Ulahannan gave me about five hits of the shockwave, which ultimately allowed him to place the stents,” said Cummings of the procedure. “I remember the doctor saying, ‘Nice. Nice’ and the sounds of the others in the room echoing that sentiment as it became clear that it was working.“
Cummings was back on his feet within a day or two. Today, he’s feeling great, spending time with his wife, Danielle, and children, Anna and Jonah; and getting back into shape on the treadmill.
“I’m a man of faith, and I was just praying for the doctor and his team to be able to fix whatever was wrong in there. Once I was at Crouse, I knew I was going to be fine,” he said. “I think about how lucky I was that I had Dr. Ulahannan in the room with me that day. I get a little emotional knowing what could have happened if I didn’t go to Crouse when I did. I’m certain that Dr. Ulahannan and his team saved my life.”