Larrita Nichols commonly prefaces her family’s story with the notion: “As life would have it, miracles often happen out of tragedy.”
Nichols lost her brother, Weston Siglin, due to a massive heart attack on Nov. 2, 2019.
Her family has a very prevalent history of heart disease, but her brother had only recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure and exhibited no additional signs of heart disease. Needless to say, at 52 years old, Siglin’s death was a shock to the family.
This incident was devastating to the entire family, but Nichols took it particularly hard.
In light of Siglin’s death, to avoid further heartbreak, Mark Nichols, Larrita’s husband, decided to proactively sign the two of them up for a heart scan special being offered by Oklahoma Heart Institute, which included five diagnostic tests.
The Nichols went in for their scans on Jan. 6, 2020. The same afternoon, they received a call from the office of John S. Tulloch, M.D. regarding Mark’s cardiac CT scan results. Tulloch explained Mark’s calcium levels were extremely high, the highest he’d had ever seen, and requested a follow-up appointment as soon as possible.
After a stress test exposed atrial fibrillation (Afib), Tulloch decided the best course of action would be a cardiac catheterization (heart cath) and scheduled surgery for Feb. 11, 2020, with Stanley K. Zimmerman, M.D.
“He wasn’t even in the procedure for 15 minutes when Dr. Zimmerman told me he needed open heart surgery,” Larrita said. “He explained there were four vessels impacted and he’d need a quadruple bypass. I immediately requested Michael Phillips, M.D.”
Larrita has worked at Hillcrest Medical Center for 27 years and has seen Phillips perform many successful lifesaving surgeries.
As soon as the original surgery case was closed, Phillips came to see the Nichols.
“He reviewed the films and talked with Mark and me about the diagnosis and what he recommended,” said Larrita. “He identified an 80-90% blockage in Mark’s major coronary arteries affecting all sides of the heart. Dr. Phillips told us it’s not a matter of if he’d have a massive heart attack, but when.”
Mark had no warning signs – no symptoms, no issues. He has owned a construction company and was working as a general contractor the weekend before his scheduled heart cath procedure without issue.
“The nurses kept doing their rounds, asking me how my chest pain was,” said Mark. “I kept telling them I didn’t have any chest pain and never had. It was pretty unbelievable it was that bad, without any symptoms.”
On Feb. 13, 2020, Mark had quadruple bypass surgery and a maze procedure to correct his Afib.
Larrita recalls one of the most heartfelt moments of Mark’s recovery was on Valentine’s Day, just one day after the operation.
“Mark apologized for not getting me anything for Valentine’s Day,” said Larrita. “He always gets me something, at least flowers. He told me it wasn’t because he couldn’t have called and arranged for flowers to be delivered, but that he didn’t want to have had something happen to him during surgery and have me receive the flowers once he’d passed.”
Larrita said Mark being alive was the best gift she could’ve received that Valentine’s Day.
“Everyone at Oklahoma Heart Institute was wonderful,” said Larrita. “We had the entire team following up with us, I always felt like part of his care team.”
The Nichols have prompted many friends and family members to get heart scans by sharing their story.
“I so wish I would have known then what I know now, and I would have dragged my brother to get screened,” said Larrita. “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if he had been screened, he would be here today.”
The Nichols are incredibly grateful to have caught Mark’s condition before suffering another family tragedy and hope their story will continue to encourage others to get screened regularly to avoid the unimaginable.
For information on lifesaving screenings, visit oklahomaheart.com/portfolio/life-saving-screening.