For those of you who don’t know, I had a heart attack on January 31st, 2009. I ask your leave to let me tell you about what led up to it and will result from my life changing invent.
I confess. I am an inveterate biscuit eater. Ever since I chewed one of my Gommie’s delicious biscuits made with lard and dripping with real cow butter, I was hooked. I gobbled every french fry within my reach. Meats, cheese, chips and peanut butter were the staples of my diet. I love salt, never dreaming it would be damaging my body. Being blessed with a mother who could out cook Paula Deen on her best day, I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted to.
At first, it didn’t matter, I was a bean pole up until the time I graduated high school. But then, I began to slow down. After I finished by physical training in R.O.T.C., I ran only when I had to, and not often enough. The stresses of daily adult life began to set in.
I knew I was overweight, but I never saw myself as overly fat. Back last summer, I made a conscious decision to lose weight. And I did. I had lost about 27 pounds. I had my cholesterol levels checked at least once a year. They weren’t bad, but they could have been better. My good HDL level was too low and my bad LDL needed some work. So, I continued to religiously take my Lipitor to control my cholesterol and started eating healthier foods. I didn’t exercise enough, a partial result of the onset of arthritis and planar fasciitis in my left foot. My blood pressure stayed normal, or even below normal, by taking my medicine as directed.
Like most men, I ignored some of the signs of heart problems. I got out of breath when I engaged in moderate exercise. I thought that just came with being fat and fifty. I was thinking about going to the fitness center and working out, but that was just it, I was thinking about it and not doing it.
Saturday, January 31st was another normal Saturday. I worked a little in the yard and I felt fine, or just normal. I went over to the site of the old Dublin High School to pick up a few more precious pieces of our city’s heritage to share with others, who couldn’t get there to save a memory.
And then, it happened. I felt a severe gas pain in my throat. I attributed it to a deliciously spicy bbq chicken samwich and serving of porknbeans, the night before. When I stopped, the pain subsided. I burped and everything seemed to be better. Then I felt worse. I headed home. Something in my mind, I believe it was one of my guardian angels, said to find the bottle of 81mg aspirin. I did and took six of them. That may have saved my life. Ask your doctor about starting a daily aspirin regimen.
I laid down for about five hours and took another blood pressure pill. The pain went away. I never had the first classic heart attack symptom. There was no strong pain in my chest, no severe pains in my shoulder or jaw. My breathing was normal. My blood pressure was elevated, but amazingly my pulse rate was normal. So, I did what any other stupid person would do. I went about my business the next day.
The next night wasn’t a good one. I still had the gas sensation and my back hurt, the latter of which I discounted as a result of lifting too much. Then it got worse again. I called one of my secretaries to take me to the Medical Center. A voice, belonging to another of my angels, said to me, call an ambulance. I did. They came. They comforted me and went to work doing the job that they were trained, but are so woefully underpaid, to do. EMT Mike Reed told me that there was some damage to the back of my heart. Reed calmly went through his normal routine keeping me at ease.
After arriving at the ER and undergoing a battery of tests, the staff doctor came in and told me that I had a heart attack. I said to myself, "yeah, but I am still here." When I was a child, the phrase, "He had a heart attack" was the response to what caused someone’s death.
And now, here is the strange twist. My HDL "good" cholesterol was 28 points better than the adult male recommended level of 50. My LDL "bad" cholesterol was 52, nearly fifty points below the optimal level of 100. In total, my cholesterol level was 130, a mark that any one of any age could be proud of. But I still had a heart attack. So despite a low cholesterol level, no one is ever safe. Other factors, family history, stresses, etc., remain.
Enter Dr. Manuel Vega and the crack operating staff at Fairview Park Hospital. Dr. Vega walked into the room. He quickly read my chart, walked over to wash his hands, and urged everyone to hurry up. With only a topical anesthetic, Dr. Vega inserted a catheter into my groin. I was awake the entire time. I felt the cold air of the operating room and the hardness of the table pressing against my back. He saved my life, though he will deny it, right there by placing four stints to relieve a completely blocked artery. I later found out that I had two other blocked arteries. By the grace of God, my heart had automatically rerouted the blood flow around the other two blockages. So, I am now blessed to say that I am on the elective bypass surgery list at Emory University Hospital and not on the emergency list. Hopefully, I will have the procedure done in one month by one of the finest cardiac surgeons in the country.
All will go well and I will become a poster boy for overcoming heart disease. All I ask is that you too, "learn and live," and follow the motto and advice of the American Heart Association. Visit your doctor and follow his advice. Eat right. Learn about your family’s medical history- see I keep trying to tell you that at least some history is important to you. Get off your fanny. Learn the signs and symptoms of heart disease. Support the American Heart Association. Try not worry. Pray for others who suffer from this killer disease. It was your prayers that got me through the first phase of this ordeal and your prayers that will get me through the next and most critical phase.
I am eternally grateful to Dr. Manuel Vega, EMTs Mike Reed and Mel Tripp , the nurses and staff of the Cardiac Care Unit of Fairview Park Hospital for the unparalleled care they gave me in saving my life. I know they will say it is their job, but to me they are heroes.
As I come to the point in my new life, I will begin to relieve myself of the stressful roles. One of my new roles will be as an advocate of a healthy heart life. I may, no I will, bug some of you about staying fit and eating right. But, that is okay, because that’s what friends are for. If, my efforts can save at least one of you, whether I know you or not, then my role as a survivor of a heart attack will be complete.
Some survive and fall back to bad habits when they start feeling better. So during this American Heart Month and all throughout the year, learn about heart disease. It will save your life or the life of someone you love. Heart disease kills more Americans than any other disease. Every twenty five seconds an American will have a coronary event. Every minute one of us dies. Yes, I said DIES, from it. It just wasn’t my minute. I was one of the lucky ones. Many are not so lucky. For those who make it and even for those of you who never have a coronary, every day will be a new and blessed day. Learn and live!