EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT)– As American Heart Month comes to a close, one family is raising awareness about heart health.

David Dugger almost lost his life to a heart attack before Christmas. He and his wife, Kimberly, thought it was either heartburn or arthritis.

“I thought it was just arthritis or whatever, then it as just getting worse and he was not feeling well or eating right,” Kimberly says.

“My jaw would hurt a little bit and I had all of the symptoms that everybody talks about, and I was like it can’t be me. I had a heart to heart talk with a good friend of mine and she says one of the main reasons in heart attack death is denial,” David said.

On December 22, he went to the emergency room, and did not return home until January 1. Doctors found several extreme blockages in his heart.

“Because he had all three arteries blocked, they were not able to do stents,” says Dr. Bradley Litke, a Cardiothoracic Surgeon at St. Vincent Ascension St. Vincent Hospital in Evansville.

Dugger was rushed into open heart surgery. Although Dr. Litke did not operate on Dugger, he says it is similar to clearing out pipes.

“The artery has three layers and the yellow is the cholesterol plaque, and a lot of it is what we eat in our diet. We are really just doing a plumbing job, because there are blockages, so it is a mechanical blockage” Dr. Litke says.

“They told me it would have been fatal if I did not have surgery,” David says.

Right after the surgery, Dugger and his wife spent days in the Cardiac ICU.

“From the one nurse that was with him to now, it was like watching an orchestra. They just all had a part, and they all played there part,” Kimberly says.

“Gosh if you hear the orchestra now, it sounds like my heart beat,” David says.

Today, the recovery continues. Dugger was diagnosed with heart disease. He goes to the hospital for therapy three times a week, and he is altering his diet.

“I exercise more than I did,” he says.

Now, the Dugger’s and Dr. Litke are encouraging everyone to not brush off their symptoms.

“If you have bad chest pain, they need to call 911 and get in by EMS or ambulance. If it is minor shortness of breath, it is good to start with their primary physician,” Dr. Litke says.