• Cardiology Patient Stories

    Eluding the ‘Widow Maker’: The Checkup that Saved His Life

George Roberts, vice president of a Florida-based road construction and contracting company

“You have to go to know.”

George Roberts will tell you he’s a busy man — too busy to worry about a physical.

As vice president of a Florida-based road construction and contracting company and chair of two industry groups, he’s got a lot to oversee. Taking time for a doctor’s visit wasn’t on his schedule.

However, Roberts refused to be absent when his wife, Stephanie, was scheduled for a preventive surgical procedure at Mayo Clinic earlier this summer. With her urging, he agreed to schedule a checkup at the same time. His wife’s insistence and that physical exam probably saved his life.

Roberts, then 46, was eligible to participate in Mayo Clinic’s Executive Health Program, best described as a comprehensive physical taking place over one to three days. The specialized program has served busy executives for more than 30 years and offers an efficient, cost-effective way to proactively manage health.


During a typical visit, patients undergo screening tests for early detection of cancer, heart disease and other serious conditions, as well as a body composition test and complete blood work. Mammography and pelvic exams are standard for women as are urology exams for men. A review and update of medications and immunizations as well as a lifestyle assessment are included. About 13,000 company leaders from around the country are seen every year at one of the clinic’s three locations in Florida, Arizona or Minnesota.

Upon arrival at Mayo Clinic, Roberts says, he was stressed about work and nervous about his wife’s procedure. He recalls, “I almost canceled, but she insisted.”

Although Roberts says his overall health was good, he had frequent heartburn and reflux. But his family’s history of coronary disease made his physician, Manuel Rodriguez, M.D., take notice.

George and Stephanie Roberts
George and Stephanie Roberts

“The initial tests were not conclusive,” says Dr. Rodriguez, one of the internal medicine specialists dedicated to the executive health program. “And knowing his concern over family history, I wanted to find a definitive answer. For any patient with conditions that could be life threatening — in this case, heart issues — you want to be as certain as possible.”

A more thorough evaluation found that one of Roberts’ main coronary arteries was about 90 percent blocked. Doctors hoped a stent would fix the problem. But if not, open heart surgery would be required.

“I’m in the road-building business,” says Roberts. “If you want a road, I can build you a great one. But I don’t know anything about fixing hearts.

“I came to Mayo Clinic because they are the best.  I told him to do whatever needed to be done,” Roberts recalls before being rushed in for an emergency angioplasty to open the blockage.

Not until afterward, when Roberts was recovering down the hall from his wife, did he realize the severity of his situation. “They told us later that this particular type of blockage was known as a ‘widow maker’ because of its location,” he recalls. “Had I had a heart attack and gone to a regular ER, there would be no guarantee.”

After three days, Roberts was getting back to work and advocating that others schedule physicals.

“You have to go to know,” Roberts said. “I had no symptoms. If it were not for Mayo Clinic — and my wife’s diligence in making sure I made my appointment – I would not be here today.”

To learn more about Mayo Clinic’s Executive Health Program and how to schedule an appointment, e-mail ExecHealth@Mayo.edu or call 1-800-851-9022 (toll-free).