“In a split-second, you cross the invisible before and after line.”

Heart Healthcare

Most Saturday mornings, I bicycle with a group of men, mostly in their 50s, whom I affectionately call the “Cheat Death” group.

We are all in pretty good shape, competitive but supportive, and convinced that hardcore exercise is our ticket to postponing the inevitable.

The ride a few Saturdays back was a tough one. At 6:30 a.m., the pack took off fast and immediately headed for the hills. The first few climbs felt pretty good, but by the third hill, I started to feel nauseated.

Figuring that was probably a result of the four beers and large Chinese dinner the night before, I kept going. After a while, I had fallen to the back of the pack. I was short of breath and wondering how I was going to make it much farther.

I am someone who hates to quit. But after the third time, the group had to stop and wait for me, I decided I had no choice. I watched them pedal away, then lay down in the grass.

I was angry and scared. For the first time my body had given out on me, and I had no clue what was going on. Besides the nausea, my only symptoms were a persistent cough and an overwhelming feeling something was not right.

I called my wife and got a ride home. After showering, I lay down in bed and started thinking. Though I have a stressful job and a little too much around the middle, I had a clean bill of health. I had good cholesterol numbers and a great doctor, and recently I had passed a cardiac stress test.

That’s when Tim Russert popped into my head. In the last couple of weeks, like almost every middle-aged man, I had taken a very personal interest in every detail of his story. Yes, he was overweight. But hadn’t he just passed a stress test?

That’s when the light went on. I bolted out of bed, went to the computer and Googled “How do you know you are having a heart attack?” The first website that popped up had a list of warning signs. As I read on, I started to sweat.

Ignoring the website’s advice to call emergency because I was too vain to have an ambulance pull up to my house, I drove to the hospital.

A doctor attached some wires to my body and conducted a quick EKG. Minutes later he said I was suffering a heart attack.

This is one of those times that defines your life, like the death of a parent or the birth of a child.

In a split-second, you cross the invisible before and after line and realise nothing is ever going to be the same. For that moment, my life had been removed from my hands. But I kept thinking, I’m supposed to be invulnerable. I’d passed a stress test, drank red wine, used a lot of olive oil, exercised like an insane person. This could not possibly be happening to me.

The doctor took out a large needle full of a sedative. The rest is a blur: a trip in an ambulance to a larger hospital, sirens blaring, an hour on the table in a cath lab, a stent implanted to open the blocked artery, my wife crawling tearfully into my bed to give me a hug, a doctor showing me before-and-after pictures of my artery, and losing his temper when I asked when I might return to work.

There were no warning signs. No sign I was suffering from coronary artery disease. A piece of plaque in one of my arteries just broke off and created a massive blood clot. When it did, I suffered a severe heart attack. If I had not gone to the hospital, I might very well have died.

I am one of the lucky ones. I get to hug my wife and my kids, understand how wonderful my friends are and realise exactly how much I love my life.

It is a debt I can never repay.

– Michael, 56

“After five shocks, my heart started again and I was alive.”

Heart Healthcare Story

I was watching my 14-year-old son play in a high school football game.

I had no history of heart disease, yet I suffered a cardiac arrest. When I collapsed, a fellow teammate’s mother stepped in and started CPR.

Someone called emergency. When the paramedics arrived, it was clear my heart had stopped, and they needed to use a defibrillator.

After five shocks, my heart started again and I was alive. The protocol was to stop after three shocks. The paramedic kept going until I was alive.

I don’t remember anything about the event, and I didn’t regain consciousness for ten days. I do still keep in contact with the paramedic, with the woman who started CPR, and the medical staff who saved me.

Having the chain of survival in place is the only reason I am here today.

– Dick, 50

“It was no little heart attack, either.”

Heart Healthcare Story

I was in shock.

I was young, healthy and in tip-top shape. There’d been no warning signs. I had no family history of heart disease.

It was no little heart attack, either. It was a big one that forced me to take drugs and wear a pacemaker for the rest of my life.

What in the world had caused the heart attack? And, more important, what could I do to make sure I didn’t have another one?

I never got a clear answer to the first question, but I answered the second one on my own.

I knew deep down my stressful working conditions as a forensic psychologist had contributed to my medical crisis. And I knew things had to change if I wanted my heart to keep ticking.

It wasn’t easy. It was a horrible feeling to know my life’s work I trained 11 years in graduate school for was going up in smoke due to my health.

I took a long look at what parts of my job were stressing me out. The first thing to go was my five employees, so I could reduce the stress of managing others.

Some people flourish by dealing with other people.

I did not, and I knew my limitations.

– Helen, 37