SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) – Don Zeman was a familiar face on WTOC with his popular home improvement segments "On the Homefront".
Sadly he died suddenly more than two years ago by something that his wife, Nancy, says could have been prevented.
She is now speaking out in hopes her husband's story will prevent another family from a similar heartbreak.
Fixing houses was a passion of the Zemans. It was a dream they followed all the way to Savannah - making the Hostess City home base for "On the Homefront". That was Zeman's nationally syndicated radio and television segments that aired on 80 stations across the country, including WTOC.
The dream was cut short in the early-morning hours of New Years Eve 2008 while the Zemans were on vacation in Mississippi.
"I went over to his side of the bed and turned the light on. As soon as I did, I knew what was happening," she recalled. "He was gray [and] white and soaked in sweat. I said ‘I'm going to call for help.' He said 'I think that's a good idea.' and then I knew I was really in trouble."
Nancy Zeman called for an ambulance, but it was too late.
"He said, ‘Nancy,I love you. I'm so sorry. I'm dying,' " she said. "About that time, the people came in to the room to help. That was probably 10 minutes after I called. I'd say a quarter til five. He was dead at 6:02."
At just 55 years of age, Zeman had a massive heart attack and passed away in front of Nancy. They had been married just eight years.
"You go to bed on Tuesday night, and you get up Wednesday morning, and your husband's gone, your soul mate's gone," Nancy Zeman said. "I was in shock. I mean, it was the last thing I expected. He just was never sick. He was never sick."
Zeman was a smoker and heart disease ran in his family. An autopsy later showed he also had a 40 percent blockage in one of his arteries.
"That's not a lot," she said. "But it was enough that the plaque let go and created a blockage. And one of the last things he said to me was he couldn't breathe. And that's why."
Cardiologist Dr. Brett Burgess, is the chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at Memorial University Medical Center. He was not Zeman's doctor, but said his case is not unusual.
"Unfortunately, you can have coronary disease or plaque buildup in your arteries, but not have a significant amount to cause you symptoms. Until one day, when a plaque could rupture and cause a heart attack. so you could have no symptoms until the day you have a heart attack and it happens," Burgess said.
Yearly checkups can help. So can exercise and eating right. They're tips Nancy Zeman wishes she and her husband had taken advantage of. She hopes her story will inspire others.
"I would not want anyone to have to go through what I went through on New Year's Eve 2008," she said."If one person goes to the doctor, then it's worth it."
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