In 2006, I was living the dream. I was married with two kids, a 3 bedroom house with a pool in middle class America, and a decent job making a great wage. I was a heavy equipment operator in the construction industry and in fairly good physical shape from eating sensible and competing in mountain bike and triathlon races.
August 24th 2006 started out like every other day for the past 11 years. I had a four A.M. wake up and shower, threw on one of my usual work t-shirts, blue jeans and my work boots, grabbed a bite to eat and headed out the door. From the shop, I jumped in the work truck and headed to the job site. As I was driving along I started to feel a cramping sensation in my middle back, I thought, “it’s nothing, I need to stretch it out” so I kept driving and then all of a sudden got this cold sweat and thought, “I must be getting the flu.” I pulled over at the gas station started pumping gas and then got very nauseous, I thought, “something’s not right, I need to go home.”
I called my wife, and she came to take me to the hospital. Once in the ER, even though I was having all the symptoms of having a heart attack, no one would say that was happening. I was 34 years old and fit (not your classic heart attack patient), but that’s exactly what was happening. A few hours later I was waking up from receiving my first stent to open up my occluded right coronary artery. Two months later 2 more stents were put in place for two other partial blockages. My life would never be the same.
My thought initially was, “my life is over.” How would I support my family? How can I be there for my kids? Could I ever be active again? I had so many more questions with no apparent answers. I went through many stages of sadness, anger, and fear and was very depressed. Ultimately, I came to grips with what happened and knew I had to persevere not only for myself but for my wife and kids. This was not an easy task considering the lack of information out there for heart attack survivors like me (young and athletic). I did not let that stop me and made a full physical recovery. I was soon working with no restrictions, coaching my kid’s teams, and competing in local small races again.
What I didn’t know was there was a mental side to recovery and found myself back in the ER with a full blown panic attack, not once but twice! This was actually scarier than my heart attack. This part of recovery has proven to be the most difficult because I still struggle with it at times. When I get a twinge in the back or chest or any strange sensation in the body my mind goes back to the heart. It has taken a lot of work to cope with this mental scar. I’ve seen a therapist, tried medications for anxiety and depression, as well as various types of relaxation techniques. I’ve even tried to downplay the fact that I even had a heart attack so that I wouldn’t think about it but that only worked for a short time.
What I’ve learned and come to realize, is that I need to share my story. To be voice to others that may have the same mental scar as I. To answer questions, motivate, high-five, hug, and inspire others. The best way for me to do this is to live a heart healthy life, compete as the athlete I have always aspired to be and be a part of the HeartStrong community.