NEW YORK -- One morning in March, Patrick "Paddy" Grieve, a 48-year-old clerk, turned to a colleague on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to complain of tingling in the bottom of his feet. Then just after the opening bell, Grieve collapsed and died of a heart attack.
Heart attacks are a way of life on Wall Street. "It's become legendary that this ZIP code is the heart attack capital of New York," said Ellen Karasik, an assistant vice president at New York University Downtown Hospital, the nearest medical center.
Nowhere is that more true than on the floor of the exchange, where the workers are largely middle-aged males suffering from poor diet, lack of exercise and stressful, frenetic jobs -- putting them at cardiological risk, according to the American Heart Association.
The heart attack death rate during business hours for the 5,000 people who work at the exchange is 60 percent higher than the national rate for men between 18 and 65, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. That understates the problem, because the national figure takes more hours and days into account.
The exchange floor's heart attack rate may be as much as 10 times that of the general public, according to Dr. Ira Schulman, director of cardiology at NYU Downtown Hospital. Five heart attacks occur on the exchange floor in a typical year, he said, and two of them are usually fatal.
"Within the last month, someone just keeled over and died," Schulman said. When someone collapses, he said, "I don't think they stop trading."
The NYSE is facing this reality head-on. On the perimeter of the trading floor, next to a bank of phones used by brokerage clerks to take orders from their offices, stands a green box with a word etched across the front: Defibrillator. Inside is an electroshock machine to revive a heart attack victim.
The NYSE is among the first employers to install a defibrillator in a workplace, said Michael G. Mullen, an analyst at Cowen & Co. in Boston who covers heart technology. Although the exchange is just five to seven minutes away from NYU Downtown by ambulance in weekday traffic, a defibrillator can save a patient's life within the first few minutes of an attack.
Defibrillators can help the heart by applying an electric shock that restores a normal rhythm. The portable version has little pads that are taped to the patient, and a computer that diagnoses and administers treatment.
The NYSE wouldn't comment on its defibrillator or say if it has ever been used.
Jason Blatt, a clerk there, said he wishes there had been a defibrillator there two years ago when his friend, William Weyier, collapsed at his feet. "We started doing everything we could, but he died right there. It was terrible," said Blatt, who works for Einhorn & Co, a specialist firm that matches buyers and sellers at the exchange.
Weyier, a broker who by all accounts was overweight -- colleagues say he weighed at least 300 pounds -- had come in during a blizzard, after shoveling snow, and died before trading began.
Grand Central Station in Manhattan bought a defibrillator this summer for $4,000, and medics used it days later to save a commuting attorney's life. It was made by Heartstream Inc., which is being acquired by Hewlett-Packard Co.
Schulman said lifestyles of the people who work at the NYSE are cardiologically incorrect. "It's a pressure cooker over there. They're doing all the wrong things."
He got an insider's view of the health habits when his daughter interned there two summers ago. "They would send out for 1,000 White Castle hamburgers," he said. As a cardiologist, "It gives me the heebie-jeebies."
The NYSE is taking other steps to keep its people alive, including requiring them to have an annual physical exam, maintaining a medical unit with three physicians on-site, and having workers on the floor who are trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and identified by badges on their jackets.
Heart attacks on Wall Street are nothing new. Jim Maguire, chairman of Henderson Brothers, a specialist firm, said that when he entered the American Stock Exchange for the first time in 1955, a corpse was being wheeled out. The experience was "rather traumatic on my first day," he recalled.
NYU Downtown Hospital opened a chest pain emergency room 2 1/2 years ago. The unit was partially financed by a $1.3 million gift from the New York and American stock exchanges.
Pub Date: 12/31/97