I was only 42 years old when I had my first heart attack.
It was May 2003; I was sparring with my son. I had participated in Tae Kwon Do for four years, and I knew the exertion level. But on that day, I just couldn’t get enough air to do it. I had a burning feeling. After about 20 minutes, I couldn’t exercise at all. I broke out in a cold sweat and grew dizzy as numbness shot down both of my arms. I went for the door and collapsed.
I learned later it was caused by severe blockage in a major artery – the one they call the widow-maker. Luckily, I survived.
A few weeks later I entered the cardiac rehab program at Union Hospital. There, the staff provided education and guidance and cleared up my misconceptions. I couldn’t imagine that I would ever suffer a heart attack; I was average weight, a non-smoker and routinely exercised. But, I couldn’t deny my genes. My father had a history of heart disease, and it was clear I needed to work on my own heart health.
I followed my rehab program for seven years. Then, life got in the way. I became a workaholic. A subsequent knee operation slowed me down, and I put on extra weight.
As the memory of my heart attack faded, I relaxed and my healthy eating habits slipped. My cardiologist told me I needed another nuclear test to check on my heart, but I had a high deductible insurance plan, and I wasn’t experiencing any symptoms. So, I put it off.
On July 18, 2015, I suffered my second heart attack. It was one of those high heat index days, and I was doing strenuous yard work. After about four hours, I went inside, thinking it was just heat exhaustion. I drank water, ate a banana for potassium, and popped a nitro pill and chewed an aspirin. Eventually, I called my nephew, a paramedic, and he decided to take me to Union. We had just pulled onto US 40 leaving Brazil when I went into full heart attack mode. As the pain increased to the point of excruciating, I thought, this is the end. I kept thinking about how I would never lay eyes on my newest grandson born just a few weeks ago out of state. I was dying.
I made it to Union Hospital’s ER, and within 53 minutes was in the cath lab. This time I had 100% blockage in the widow-maker. The blockage occurred directly in front of the stent from my first attack. I survived... again.
Nine days later, I started cardiac rehab at Union Hospital. I received literature clearly explaining how to improve my heart health. There, the rehab staff monitors my heart and vital signs during exercise so I can push myself without the anxiety or fear of another attack. Since starting the program, I’ve lost 15 pounds, eat a healthy diet with limited carbs and stay away from refined sugar.
I feel great again. Physically, I can do what I want and I attribute that to my rehab at Union. Every day I drive from Brazil to Union where my therapists encourage me and hold me accountable.
I’ve thanked the people at Union who saved my life. I will continue thanking them as we work on my path to a healthy heart.
What I haven’t had the opportunity to do is express my gratitude to Union Hospital Foundation’s donors.
Through your donations, the Foundation funded some lifesaving equipment allowing the ER to communicate with the ambulance while in transit. This equipment helped the ER doctors know what was happening so they were prepared when I arrived. The equipment saves precious minutes and helped save my life.
Because I survived, I did get to meet my newest grandson, Rowan, and I will celebrate my 32nd wedding anniversary with my wife, Karla.