One Salem man feels lucky to be alive.  If it weren't for a test he had done at LewisGale Medical Center he might not be. 

Jerry Brinkley is a husband, father and a grandfather who loves collecting, sitting on the front porch and talking walks with his wife Dianna. One day just a few weeks ago Brinkley knew something wasn't right.

"The whole house is air conditioned and I was sweating profusely," Brinkley explained. He went to the hospital and undewent tests which showed he did not have a heart attack nor was it a stroke.

Doctors weren't sure what the problem was. They wanted to do one more test. "I told them I'd like to go home first. He (the doctor) said 'What do you want to go home for?' I said 'I've got some mowing and stuff I want to get done.' He (the doctor) said 'I don't think that would be a good idea.'"

The test is called myocardial profusion imaging with Pet CT using radioactive ammonia and it's is being used at Lewis Gale Medical Center in Salem.  It allows doctors to see the heart at the cellular level. 

Here's how it works. The patient lays on a table and is injected with radioactive ammonia. Images are then taken with the heart at rest and while the heart is exerting. The entire procedure takes about an hour.

"What we're doing is we're putting the radioactivity inside the patient and it goes to a target organ," explained Dr. Bill Kiser, Medical Director of Radiology at LewisGale Medical Center.

In this case the target organ is the heart. This test that uses radioactive material works particularly well on overweight and obese patients. "It penetrates the tissue better so it gets through the soft tissue and to the camera," said Dr. John Schmedtje, a cardiologist with the Roanoke Heart Institute who treats Brinkley.

In Brinkley's case the images showed a low blood supply to part of the heart that indicated a blockage.  A cardiac catheterization confirmed that and Brinkley had open heart surgey June 14th.

"It was fortunate we did it this way instead of the conventional way which may not have picked it up and he may have progressed to further damage, a heart attack who knows what could have happened," said Dr. Kiser.

Brinkley is relieved he had the test done. "They couldn't say when but they said I could have had a major heart attack or something," Brinkley said. "That's scary."

Now Brinkley's recovering and already taking short walks with his wife as the two walk into a bright future.  "They said this is supposed to  mean I'll be around for a long time. I hope so," Brinkley said with a smile. "I'm counting on being around for a long time."