Bentz see own heart attack as cautionary tale for others

By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

SALEM — Cliff Bentz said when your body reveals heart attack symptoms, don’t ignore them.

The Republican representative from Ontario said his decision to drive to a hospital instead of ignoring feelings of discomfort probably saved his life.

“If I had not went to the hospital, the doctor said at worst I would probably not be here and, at best, have much more heart damage,” said Bentz.

Bentz suffered a heart attack but his fast action proved to be the difference June 11. He was hospitalized for treatment and then released to home rest.

He said he felt fine when he awoke that Sunday morning.

Then, suddenly, pain — “in my back, right underneath my shoulder blades,” said Bentz.

He thought he pulled a muscle. But the pain didn’t go away.

“It was the craziest thing, it just started. I thought it was odd. I kept checking my left arm, to see if there was any weakness. I was never in any distress, no sweating, just pain,” said Bentz.

Bentz, 65, said he was more curious than concerned at first.

He said he wasn’t sure if the pain was worth the trouble of going to a doctor.

“It is hard to admit to yourself, you know, it always happens to someone else,” said Bentz.

Finally he decided to be safe and drove to the Salem Hospital.

“It is not like being out in Drewsey. The ER was six minutes away, so I thought why not? Even when I got to the hospital the pain abated for a minute,” said Bentz.

When he arrived and reported his symptoms, the medical staff began a series of tests that quickly showed Bentz was having a heart attack.

Medical personnel determined Bentz suffered a heart arterial blockage. The blockage was repaired that afternoon by the insertion of two stents.

Bentz said the incident triggered some reflection.

“This kind of event will certainly make you think,” said Bentz.

Bentz, though, isn’t alone. Every year, more than 700,000 Americans suffer heart attacks.

The immediate result of the heart attack for Bentz, who is seen as one of most knowledgeable lawmakers in Salem, is a reduced workload.

“I have to take a week and do nothing. I can walk a little bit but do nothing that will cause stress. I will go part-time, a couple of hours, starting next week,” said Bentz.

Cutting back on work may be a challenge for Bentz. He spent the better part of the last year working to craft a massive transportation proposal for the state.

He is also chair, or is co-chair, of several important legislative committees. His work on the transportation proposal was especially key and a good share of the bill now before lawmakers was penned by Bentz. He said while he is disappointed he will be on the political sideline for a short time, the hard labor on the transportation bill is over.

“Ninety percent of the work (on the transportation bill) has been done. All of the discussion and the work and hearings are over now over and it is time to vote. I will be there to vote,” he said.

He will also have to find a way to reduce his stress.

“I will adjust appropriately, find different ways to interact with people, approach things a little less intensely,” he said.

He said his heart attack won’t affect his focus at the Legislature.

“As far as I am concerned I am going to keep doing what I have been doing,” said Bentz. “The good news for me is this particular situation was caught in time and managed appropriately and will not impact how I do this job.”

Have news? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at 541-473-3377 or [email protected].