You might think that being a golf coach naturally would make you more prone to using golf metaphors. In Coach Ron Waters’ case, you’d be right.
“Basically, all summer I’ve felt subpar,” Waters said. “I’ve been really tired, I didn’t have much energy and I didn’t have much strength.”
After a weekend of chest and back pain, Waters’ fatigue came to a head on Monday, Sept. 28 just as he was about to start playing in the Blount Memorial Foundation’s annual golf tournament, “The Classic” at Egwani Farms Golf Course.
Just two days later on the Maryville College campus where he’s spent the last seven years coaching men’s and women’s golf, Waters recounted his whirlwind experience. “I told a friend who I was playing with ‘I think I’m having a heart attack,’” he said. “I knew that I was probably going to be in trouble if I didn’t do something right then. Dr. Stephen Kiefer, who is a cardiologist, just happened to be there, and he came over and checked me out,” he added.
“We had been warming up for the tournament, and I came back to my cart. His cart was parked next to mine,” said Kiefer, who retired from Blount Memorial in 2012. “I noticed a group of people gathered around him. He was slumped over not looking very well. I asked if I could help out. It turned out that Dr. John Niethammer and some other guys were there and they said ‘Hey, you’re just who we need.’ After gathering some information, I told him it might be angina and he needed to get it checked out immediately. Someone had already called the ambulance, so we hung out until the ambulance came. I took a look at his EKG and I told them that, given his symptoms, they should go ahead and call this one in as a STEMI, or ST segment elevation myocardial infarction,” Kiefer explained, adding that determining a STEMI as soon as possible allows the hospital’s STEMI team to respond rapidly. “He did not want to go to the hospital. He didn’t want to ruin everyone’s day, but I told him he unfortunately didn’t have much choice,” he added
“I’ve known Coach Waters for almost all of my life,” said Blount Memorial radiologist Dr. John Niethammer. “I told him ‘You probably don’t want to do this, but we need to get you in that ambulance and get you to the hospital.’ When Dr. Kiefer came walking up, it really made me feel better since he’s a cardiologist. I thought, ‘This couldn’t be any better for Coach Waters,’” Niethammer explained. “If something like this was going to happen, being around people who are involved in medical care was a good thing for him,” he added.
“The ambulance came, picked me up and asked me where I wanted to go. I told them I wanted to go to Blount Memorial,” Waters continued. “The ambulance people got me there, I went into the emergency room and I got into the cath lab quickly. Dr. Jane Souther did my procedure and put at stent in. I had a 100 percent blockage in one artery,” he added.
“I was shocked at how immediate the relief was,” Waters said. “Immediately when the stent went in, the pain was completely gone. Typically, when you think of people having heart attacks, you think of a long recovery time. When I was in the hospital, people would come to visit me and expect to see me lying there with tubes sticking out of me, but I actually was sitting up watching television and greeting them when they came in. It really was an immediate relief. I’m very fortunate because it could’ve been much worse and probably would’ve been had I let it go any longer,” he added.
“It was just totally coincidental that we were both at the tournament, and even more coincidental that I came back to my cart and his cart was parked behind me,” Kiefer said. “That was fortuitous, I guess. It’s good to be near a cardiologist when you need one. But, the people who took care of him at the hospital are the ones who should be commended,” he added.
“Kiefer jumping right into the fray definitely was a good thing,” Niethammer said. “I have to give kudos to the team from the Blount Memorial Foundation, too. They were taking care of Coach Waters and doing all the right things before I ever showed up. They kept their heads and knew the right things to do,” he added.
After a few days of rest and recuperation, Waters will be clear to return to his normal routines of coaching and even playing golf. He also says he will be more wary of warning signs in the future. “You read all the symptoms of a heart attack, but I didn’t really have what I would call the classic ones you hear about,” he said. “Experiencing what I did, though, I would recognize it quicker. If I have friends who start telling me that they have those same feelings, I would encourage them to immediately go to the hospital and get checked out. Like Dr. Souther said, it’s far better to come and find out there’s nothing wrong than to wait too late,” he explained. “Luckily, I got there at the right time and had great care. Everybody that I came in contact with, the nurses, the emergency room folks, everyone was so professional. It was obvious that they really cared and weren’t just doing a job they get paid for. They really care for people and I was just impressed,” he added.