It has been five years since Dr. Mark Somers was working in the Cardiac Care Unit at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and suddenly decided to hop into one of the beds himself.
Dr. Somers’ life has moved on in many ways since that memorable day in December 2007. He has since gotten married and talks with pride and love about his wife, Heather, who is mayor of the Town of Groton, and his 2-year-old daughter, Grace.
But as a cardiologist who was stricken with chest pain while on the job, Dr. Somers understands that his story is one he has to keep sharing, not simply for the drama but, more importantly, for the lessons it can teach.
“It’s a reminder that we all have to pay attention to our symptoms and to know our risk factors,” he says.
Dr. Somers arrived at L+M in 2001. The Ohio native attended Yale as an undergraduate and then Duke University for Medical School. He trained in internal medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle, and then, for his cardiology specialty, at Emory University in Atlanta.
“I came to L+M because I really wanted to be somewhere in the northeast,” he says. “After growing up in land-locked Ohio, I really wanted to be near the water. And I wanted to have the seasons, and I didn’t necessarily want to be in a large city. When I first arrived at L+M I learned a lot, and I continue to learn.”
Prior to December 2007, Dr. Somers had been training to run a marathon and he believed he was healthy. He was taking medication for some occasional chest pain, but it caught him by surprise in the CCU when those chest pains suddenly got a lot worse.
“I was having an episode of chest discomfort, and I found I couldn’t finish my sentences I was so short or breath,” he recalls. “So, I jumped into one of the empty beds in the CCU, and I had one of the nurses do an EKG on me. She did the EKG and handed it directly to me. I knew right away it was not normal.”
Five days later, Dr. Somers had open heart surgery.
“I had double bypass surgery,” he says. “I was out of the hospital by Christmas and back to work by February.
“I also went through the cardiac rehab at L+M, and it was a wonderful experience,” he continued. “Mark Esposito (a cardiac rehab specialist at L+M) talked me into it. I wasn’t going to do it, but I’m really glad I did.”
Today, Dr. Somers watches his risk factors and his medications very carefully.
“And I haven’t had any more problems,” he says. “I’m doing very well, and I’m feeling good.”
But he’ll never forget that moment when he saw his own electrocardiogram.
“In that moment, I saw the road of my life moving in a direction that I had not anticipated,” he said.
His advice as a doctor (and as a patient) is clear.
“Pay attention to your symptoms,” he said. “Don’t let a borderline risk factor feed your denial. Watch your blood pressure and your cholesterol. And, if your numbers are abnormal, follow it up. See your doctor on a regular basis.”
Dr. Somers’ life-changing story is not one he talks about every day, but it is one of the reasons he wears his iconic bowties.
“After I went through the issues with my heart, my wife and I were shopping and she said, ‘You know, you look good in a bow tie.’ And so, my first day back to work, I wore a bow tie, and I’ve been wearing one ever since,” he said. “It’s a way of reminding myself that my life now is just a little bit different.”
Typically, Dr. Somers is more likely to be talking about his daughter Grace, his new membership in the Groton Elks Club or even his role on the town’s Historic District Commission. He’s busy with patients each day and loves to stay involved in the community.
And he’s quite happy he came to southeastern Connecticut and joined L+M about 11 years ago.
“I believe in being part of the community,” he says. “I try to really stay involved. I think that’s what makes L+M strong. We’re all working with and taking care of our neighbors.
“Some of my patients come in and the first thing they ask is ‘How’s Grace doing?’ That’s not the thing I’m thinking about when I’m seeing them as a patient, but it is all part of being personal,” he continued. “And, in medicine, I don’t think we should ever lose that.”
To learn more about Dr. Somers, click here.