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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s not too late to quit smoking after a heart attack. That’s the message from a new study done by metro researchers.

Keefe Ratte smoked for 35 years. Last October, he even smoked as he was having a heart attack. His wife drove him to the emergency room.

“So when we pulled up to drop me off, I still wasn’t finished yet, and I took my last couple of hits,” said Ratte.

The Warrensburg man had angioplasty to clear a blockage that doctors said could have killed him before he got to a hospital.

“Which is probably one of the reasons why I took the doctors at heart when they said the single best thing I could to stay alive was to quit smoking,” said Ratte.

And quitting can help in other ways, according to a study done at Saint Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute. It looked at chest pain and quality of life after a heart attack. Not surprisingly, patients who’d never smoked did the best while those who continued smoking did the worst. Those who stopped smoking before a heart attack were similar in health status to those who never smoked. And what about those who quit after a heart attack?

“Within a year, those who quit smoking after their heart attack had less chest pain and had improved mental health similar to levels as those who had never smoked,” said Dr. Donna Buchanan, the study’s lead author.

Dr. Buchanan suspects that future study will find that over longer periods of time, they see other benefits, too.

“It’s not too late to stop smoking after a heart attack,” she said.

Ratte had chest pain again weeks after his heart attack, and needed another angioplasty. He says he’s felt great since.

“I know if I was still smoking, I wouldn’t feel as good,” he said.

Now he reaches for Tic Tacs instead of a cigarette. He says his dentist hates it, but his cardiologist loves it.

The research is published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.