As Dana Carvey walked through the Washington Convention Center on Friday, he slipped into a soothingly staccato Indian accent.
“You should take one baby aspirin a day,” he lectured a woman, another attendee at the American College of Cardiology conference.
That’s when Dr. P.K. Shah — the comedian’s L.A.-based physician and the inspiration for this voice — chimed in to critique Carvey’s not-ready-for-primetime advice.
Prescriptions vary, cautioned Shah, who noted that although aspirin can reduce the risk of heart attack, it can also cause bleeding stomach ulcers and other side effects. One of those effects is bruising, which Carvey knows well.
“I’m a Chiquita banana,” joked the still-boyish-looking 58-year-old. His doctor impression could maybe use some work, but Carvey — who was in town to receive the ACC’s patient advocate award — has plenty of experience on the other side of the stethoscope.
Suffering from chest pain in the late 1990s, Carvey underwent three failed angioplasties and a botched double bypass. (The surgeon operated on the wrong artery.) Then he met Shah, who performed a fourth angioplasty. This one was a success.
Carvey has been part of several famous duos, including “Saturday Night Live” faves Hans and Franz and Wayne and Garth. But his partnership with Shah is more focused on saving lives than getting laughs.
They both like to talk about the reason Carvey has his “plumbing problems,” although only Shah can pronounce it: heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia.
Carvey inherited a gene that allows cholesterol levels to skyrocket and leads to early onset cardiovascular disease. He’s lucky, Shah said, that he got one gene instead of two — that’s called homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia.
“I would not be alive if I was that kind of zygous,” said Carvey, who appreciates that Shah takes the time to help him understand the science. He’d seen another doctor previously who had no interest in answering questions, or as Carvey put it, “He didn’t have a lot of patience with patients.”
Shah doesn’t mind when Carvey mimics what he’s saying, because it proves he’s actually listening. Not enough people pay attention to what medicine can do, Shah added. So many heart attacks would be avoidable if more individuals were screened and got preventative care.
Part of Carvey’s advocacy is encouraging friends to see doctors. After James Gandolfini’s death last summer, he managed to persuade two friends to get checked out.
“They’re both heavy, but clean as a whistle,” he said, gratefully. Carvey, however, has another pal who worries him. The guy has a cardiologist, but he frequently skips his meds and eats at McDonald’s.
Those are risks Carvey would never consider taking, and his commitment has paid off. When his heart troubles began, his cholesterol level was in the high 300s. These days, it’s dropped to 130.
“It’s about as good as I can get,” Carvey said. So now he just needs to work on that doctor impression.
Here’s a selection of findings from last weekend’s American College of Cardiology conference in D.C.
-Postmenopausal women who consume two or more diet drinks a day have a higher risk for cardiovascular problems, according to data from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study.
-People who’ve said “till death do us part” have lower rates of cardiovascular disease. That’s from a study of 3.5 million Americans that showed the correlation holds for both men and women.
-Springing forward an hour for daylight saving time might do more than throw off your sleep schedule. A study of Michigan hospitals found there’s a spike in patients with heart attacks that Monday.