Larry Gregory, Heart Stent Surgery

Heart disease is no match for Larry Gregory.

Tromping last fall through the long corn rows on a remote South Dakota farm, lugging a rifle to shoot pheasants, Larry Gregory had no idea that he had a "widow-maker" stalking his heart.

"I didn't have any pain, no shortness of breath -- nothing," said Gregory, a 75-year-old Battle Creek resident.

Fortunately for Gregory, a retired fast food franchise owner, an annual physical is a ritual he not only follows but encourages others to follow as well. Shortly after returning from the trip, he was given a routine stress test that sent an alarm to his physician. An angiogram found the cause of the worry: A significant blockage of a major heart artery, a condition commonly known as the "widow-maker."

The "widow-maker" gets its ominous name from the fact that if the artery gets abruptly and completely blocked it will cause a major heart attack and likely lead to death.

Shortly thereafter, on Sept. 30, 2010, Dr. William LaPenna, a cardiologist with Borgess Cardiology Group, implanted a stent in Gregory’s heart artery. A stent is a metallic scaffold that holds the artery open.

"They could have knocked me over with a feather when they told me," Gregory said of the worrisome heart problem. "Dr. LaPenna gave me the technical name but I'm a burger-flipper, not a doctor. Then he said it was a 'widow-maker' and I understood just how serious it was.

Gregory was confident in his Borgess Heart Institute providers.

“Borgess has a great heart program,” Gregory said. “I knew I would receive the best possible care.”

A gregarious grandpa, Gregory hardly sits still and had no idea that he was so close to a serious heart attack. He hunts, travels extensively and has a large collection of old cars, jukeboxes and an assortment of rifles, one of them a flint-lock.

A graduate of Western Michigan University in 1958, he owned and grew a coin laundry and dry-cleaning business and, after selling that business, worked with his brother to purchase nearly a score of Burger King franchises. At the urging of Sue, his wife for more than a half-century, he retired in 2000 to spend more time with his grandchildren.

Over the years he had both knees replaced, an appendectomy and cataract surgery. Not much, however, has slowed him down. "You gotta keep going," he said.

Gregory had high praise for Dr. LaPenna and Borgess Cardiology Group, a practice where Sue is also a patient. She has had two heart attacks and currently has a pacemaker.

He also singled out Sister Betty Veenhuis of the Congregation of St. Joseph, who visited him while he was recovering from the procedure at Borgess Medical Center. "She's a sweetheart," he said.