AUGUSTA, Maine — Rep. Bernard Ayotte knew something was wrong on the afternoon of Thursday, March 7, as he was listening to testimony with the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, yet he drove home to Aroostook County only to be flown to Bangor after having a heart attack.
“I felt very bad,” said Ayotte, a fourth-term Republican representative from the northern Maine town of Caswell. “I got up and I left the committee and said to myself, ‘I’ve got to go home.’ I had run out of my nitro pills.” Nitroglycerin pills are used to ease chest pains in those who have reduced blood flow in the heart.
Ayotte, 69, has had one heart attack before, but he was still clinging to the thought that maybe he had a touch of influenza. His symptoms weren’t the same as before. There was little or none of that elephant-on-the-chest feeling, but every breath hurt. Alone in the car, Ayotte made it home to Caswell — 259 miles after leaving the State House — but it wasn’t easy.
“I was suffering badly that whole evening,” Ayotte said by phone on Monday.
Ayotte went to the doctor the next morning, thinking he would just renew his prescription for nitroglycerine pills, but a few tests showed that in addition to an inflammation around his lungs, he suffered another heart attack, so he was rushed by helicopter to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. He spent the next few days in the intensive care unit and was released last Wednesday.
“I’m slowly recovering,” said Ayotte, who represents several towns on the Canadian border including Caswell, Grand Isle, Hamlin, Limestone, New Sweden, Van Buren, Woodland, Cyr Plantation and Connor Township. “I’m finding it more difficult to recover than the last time.”
Ayotte originally planned to return to Augusta in time for Tuesday’s House of Representatives session. He especially wanted to participate in Franco-American Day ceremonies that are scheduled for Wednesday. But with a snowstorm predicted to blanket the state Tuesday and less than a week after he left the hospital, Ayotte’s family and friends, including members of legislative leadership, have urged him to take some more time off.
“When I saw him in the hospital he looked very well,” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette. “What some people thought could have been a worse-case scenario wasn’t a worst-case scenario. His comment to me was, ‘If I’m feeling better I’ll be down for Tuesday.’ I told him that might not be his best plan.”
Ayotte, reached Monday at his home, said he was feeling much better but still finding himself short of breath. He said he has decided in the short term to spend a few more days recovering and in the long-term to not work so hard. Ayotte said he prides himself on attending every committee hearing and caucus he can, as well as meeting with state workers and administrators in person whenever he can, as opposed to by phone. He said in six years as a lawmaker, he has written at least 800 letters to and on behalf of his constituents.
“I’m going to be working back in Augusta just as soon as I can, but I’m just going to have to start to take it a little more easily,” he said. “I’m going to be more diligent in taking my pills and I’m going to quit drinking coffee.”
Ayotte said this experience also will make him pay more attention to his symptoms in the future, and perhaps stop him from attempting another 259-mile drive when he’s sick.
Ayotte, who is a retired teacher and principal, sawmill operator and U.S. Army veteran, credited his wife, Priscilla, for her strong support in his time of need. In 45 years of marriage they have raised three children and now have four grandchildren.
“She is a real soldier,” said Ayotte. “She has not broken down once. She’s really been a godsend.”
Ayotte said he expects a full recovery and to return to his duties in Augusta by the end of the week.