FEATURE ARTICLE: A ‘simple blood test’ for a silent condition

WSAZ Meteorologist credits doctor’s quick thinking to I.D. serious heart issue


On paper, Brandon Butcher was the picture of health. The 47-year-old meteorologist exercised six days a week. He paid attention to what he ate, and his vital signs at his regular check-ups with his primary care physician were always good. He and his wife, Mary, are active parents to four children – one in college and three at home. That is why Butcher did not think much of a deep shoulder pain he experienced when he woke up on Oct. 6, 2023.

He headed into work around 1 a.m. to track weather patterns and share his forecasts on WSAZ’s morning news programs for the Charleston-Huntington area. He was used to some muscle discomfort from his workout routines. He called the feeling that morning “too deep to stretch out or massage away.”

By the time he was on camera that morning, Butcher said the pain had moved closer to the left side of his chest, but it still did not feel like anything of grave concern. “I just thought it was weird and annoying,” he said. “I was always one of those people that, if I go for a run and it’s hard at the end, I’ll just push through it because otherwise I won’t get better – no pain no gain.”

Only when he began to have trouble breathing did he realize he may need help. “I’m not having some good health right now,” Butcher said live on the air.

The morning anchor had walked away from his desk, so Butcher was alone in the room. “I noticed my body started to get flush, and my left side started getting weak,” he says. “I didn’t know what to do.” He stepped off camera and managed to walk out of the studio and down the hall to his producers. He indicated he was in distress – all while delivering the forecast by microphone.

Butcher ended up at Cabell Huntington Hospital and, later, St. Mary’s Medical Center where he received most of his care. He is thankful that his wife, a physician assistant, could be with him. “With Mary there, I could better communicate with the doctors,” Butcher says. “They each had a different style, but they were all very knowledgeable in their areas of expertise.”

His doctors, Andrew Vaughan, M.D., a Marshall Health cardiologist, and Nepal Chowdhury, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon at St. Mary’s Medical Center, ran CT scans and a stress test on Butcher, but neither showed significant issues with his heart.

At Mary’s request, Dr. Chowdhury performed a cardiac catheterization, more commonly referred to as a heart cath, to see what was going on inside of his heart the day after he initially went to the hospital. The test showed three of the arteries in his heart had 70% blockages, and one had another 50% blockage. Chowdhury performed the quadruple bypass four days after Butcher initially walked off the air in distress.

Butcher did not understand how this could have happened. His father had an ascending aortic aneurysm, but he otherwise had no indication that he was at-risk for a cardiovascular event.

"Based on all my lifestyle indicators and vitals up to that point, I should not be in any risk category,” he said.

Because he mentioned the family history of an ascending aortic aneurysm, Dr. Vaughan recommended additional testing while he was in recovery from surgery. That is how Butcher learned he had an abnormally high level of lipoprotein(a), which Butcher said made his cholesterol “extra sticky,” causing it to build up in his heart valves more easily.

Butcher started on a statin medication to lower cholesterol, but his body did not tolerate it well. At a follow-up appointment after being discharged from the hospital, Dr. Vaughan reviewed Butcher’s options to lower his cholesterol more aggressively without using statins.

While agents to lower lipoprotein(a) are being rigorously tested in medical trials, they are not available yet. The goal at this point is to lower his cholesterol as much as possible to offset the risk posed by lipoprotein(a).

Butcher went back to work in December, and he is back to regular exercise, although his diet is leaner than it was before. He and his care team, which includes Brittany Messer, PharmD, a clinical pharmacist, are focused on his long-term recovery and making sure he is on top of taking care of himself and his medications.

More than anything, Butcher wants other people to know how easy it is to get their lipoprotein(a) levels tested. “It’s a simple blood test,” Butcher said. “I don’t know why people don’t get it all the time.”

Vaughan agrees,” While the testing is relatively new, I recommend anyone whose family or personal medical history includes premature cardiovascular disease or a history of heart disease should talk to their doctor about a lipoprotein screening,” he says. After Butcher’s cardiac episode, his twin brother found out he also had an abnormally elevated level of lipoprotein(a).

According to the American Heart Association, about one in five people have abnormally elevated lipoprotein(a). It is undetectable without a specific screening laboratory blood test. Even people who regularly exercise and have healthy eating habits can unknowingly have elevated lipoprotein(a) levels.

“I got lucky that I avoided a heart attack and still got my bypass, but I don’t want doctors to pick up people at bypass,” Butcher said. “There are so many people that can avoid what I had happen to me.”

To learn more about Marshall Cardiology and its services, visit marshallhealth.org/cardiology or call 304.691.8500.


Media Relations Contact

Michele McKnight
Assistant Director of External Affairs

Receive Marshall Health News

The Marshall Health newsroom offers our latest news releases, which are distributed through a Marshall University electronic mailing list.

To be added to this list, please e-mail your name, job title, e-mail address, media outlet and location to mcknigh4@marshall.edu.

Sign Up for Healthy Herd Updates

Sign up for Marshall Health's official blog. This digital resource is full of stories, recipes, health and wellness information to help you on your wellness journey. 

News Release Archives

2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 20202019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015