Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler is recovering from a Saturday night heart attack that required surgery to insert two stents to open an artery.

Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler is recovering from a Saturday night heart attack that required surgery to insert two stents to open an artery.

"One of my major arteries was almost occluded," Wheeler said. "They told me this one is a 'widow maker.' "

The 68-year-old mayor said his wife and he had just finished dinner Saturday night when he felt pressure in his chest, but chalked it up to indigestion. But when the pressure and tension radiated to his back he called his doctor, who told him to go to Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center.

Doctors discovered that one of the main arteries to his heart was almost completely closed. The type of blockage often gives very few symptoms until the heart attack, and if not treated quickly, can be fatal.

Wheeler, who operates Rogue Valley Optometric Clinic with his wife, Treasure, said he has good blood pressure and cholesterol levels, though his triglyceride levels were on the high side.

Wheeler underwent a 21/2-hour operation to insert two stents through the femoral artery in his leg.

He was released from the hospital Tuesday, under orders to change to a fat-free diet.

"I'm doing really well," Wheeler said. "A lot of it is thanks to Rogue Regional."

Wheeler, who had participated in the Pear Blossom Festival earlier Saturday, said he plans to take it easy for the rest of the week, temporarily turning over his presiding duties to Councilor Al Densmore.

By next week, Wheeler said, when the city begins discussions of its upcoming budget, he hopes to resume his mayoral duties but follow a lighter schedule.

Densmore, who also had serious cardiac problems in 2005, said he was relieved to hear Wheeler appeared to be recovering well from the surgery.

"I welcomed him to our cardiac caucus on the council," he said.

Dr. Jon Brower, a general invasive cardiologist at Asante, said Wheeler pulled through the heart attack and surgery in good shape, but did face a serious situation.

"It was pretty clear that he was at near-closure of the main artery in the front of his heart," he said.

The left anterior descending artery was 90 percent closed at one point and another 80 percent blockage was found elsewhere in the same artery, he said.

Brower said the artery is the primary supplier of blood to the main pumping station of the heart.

In the kind of blockage found in Wheeler, Brower said, he would typically expect to see some warning signs prior to a heart attack.

Brower said it can be difficult to discern the difference between a heart attack and other types of discomfort, including indigestion.

"Everybody is wired differently," he said.

Women react differently than men, often feeling an unexplained pain in the stomach, Brower said.

The hospital sees a lot of chest pain patients daily, but most aren't the result of a heart attack, he said.

Typically if the chest pain doesn't subside but begins spreading to the arm, jaw or back, sometimes accompanied by sweating or nausea, Brower recommends seeing a doctor immediately.

Diet is definitely a factor in heart attacks, he said, but smoking and genetics are also significant contributors to cardiac problems.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email