On Friday October 18th 2013, a week after my 25th high school reunion, I stopped in my local McDonalds to have lunch as I did almost daily. While I was barely active and close to 100 lbs over weight at the age of 43, I thought I was in average shape. While on my laptop checking emails and trying to sign up for national healthcare, I started to have what I thought was a panic attack from continuously being booted off the system.
With intense panic and sweating, I decided that I would walk outside for a smoke. People said I stumbled to the door where I remember lighting a cigarette and then throwing up. I walked back in and the manager named Mike came running over to me as I went face first onto the floor. I suffered what is known as a widow maker heart attack.
The assistant manager, Jo Ann, from what I hear jumped over the counter and started CPR. Jo Ann is a retired Marine Paramedic with over 25 years in the field. Had she not been there to keep blood and oxygen flowing, I would not be here today. From what I have been told, the paramedics arrived about six to seven minutes into my ordeal. With the help of an Automatic External Defibrillator, my heart restarted. I remember coming to.
I was fortunate to be a block away from Johns Hopkins Bayview in Baltimore. Upon my arrival, I was rushed into a emergency operating room to have a stent placed into one of my arteries. I was completely aware at this time, and I was watching on the 3D imager as they guided the stent into place. At one point I watched my heart stop beating. This happened two more times while they were placing the stent. I looked at my nurse and said, ”Does that mean I am dead?” Her response was, “Well sort of….but I got you.”
Everything went black and time stood still. I remember a feeling of thumps going through my body but no pain and no fear. Then I saw a sudden rush of light and was awakened to people cheering and yelling. This happened two more times and after the stent was put in, I was taken over to John Hopkins Main. Later that night I had a balloon pump inserted into my heart to assist my heart beat since a significant portion of my heart muscle was not working anymore.
I was informed that I needed to have open-heart surgery and at a minimum a triple bypass and maybe more. On October 21st I went under the knife. A dream team of doctors was assembled to do my surgery. Each member of he five person team was either the number 1 or number 2 person in their field worldwide for the type of surgery that I was about to undergo. During my 18 hour surgery where my heart was stopped, and I was placed on a heart lung machine, I did have a clot that came loose and traveled to my brain. I laid in a chemically induced coma for 48 hours and was slowly brought out of it. After a day it became apparent that I had suffered a stroke during my surgery. My left side was limp and useless. My eye would not respond, and my speech was slurred.
I actually am grateful that I did not have insurance because Hopkins just took care of me. I stayed for a total of 28 days after my surgery. I had to learn to walk again since my leg would drag and my left arm could not support me. My speech returned quickly though. Eventually, I could walk using a cane and walker combination. But my motion was limited to only about 50 feet before complete exhaustion would set in. My Ejection Fraction at the time of discharge was as low as 20%, and I was even considered to be a candidate for a heart transplant … if it did not improve.
I had to move to my brother’s house and live in his kitchen. Each day I would get up and walk in the freezing temperatures of Pennsylvania. First, I walked to the mailbox and then across the street. When I could get to the neighbor’s driveway a 1/4 mile away, it was time for me to me to leave. The weather was improving and Spring was starting.
For the next few months, my rehab consisted of going into a Walmart and using a cart to walk the stores and rest when I had to. I remember falling asleep standing up once. During my cardiac rehab care my medication wreaked havoc on me sometimes causing my blood pressure to drop to 60 over 30 and just cause me to fall out. That first year I was back in the hospital a total of 13 additional times.
Slowly and very determinedly I decided I was not going to get beaten. People kept telling me to stop and not push myself. They told me it was okay, and I had nothing to prove. I was told to just relax accept what happened and be okay with not being able to do what I used to do.
No, I had another shot, and I was not going to be stopped! My strength started coming back and even my stamina. I started to be able to do more physically and much of this came after they figured out the right medication combination. In the Spring of 2015, I was notified that there were some abnormalities in my blood work and that I needed to be seen. Well wouldn’t you know it I was diagnosed with stage one Lymphoma and a brain tumor. Both were treatable and caught extremely early on. So after a very intensive and painful series of treatments both forms are in remission now. I directly attribute my ability to deal with those things to my ability to get better from heart attack.
Since the start of being able to walk unassisted I have shed over 75 pounds. I have dropped six pant sizes. I eat healthy 99% of the time, and I don’t smoke anymore. My Ejection Fraction has climbed to the 50% mark and while it really will never get much better my stamina has increased drastically.
The odds of surviving a widow maker are about 1 of 1%. The odds were in my favor, and I just happened to have everything there at the right time to save me. Two years and nine months after my drop-dead date, I ran a Sprint Triathlon in Virginia Beach on June 11, 2016. Accomplishing this in my past life was unimaginable. I chose an event that focused on completion rather then placing. I finished the event in 1hr 18 min and 22 seconds and was number 234 out of 702 participants.
Not only do I now have one Triathlon in the books, but I have two more on the schedule along with a half marathon this fall. So I still hear from people that ask me why I keep trying to do this along with a few other things such as skydiving and scuba diving. The answer is pretty simple. I want to live! I want my daughter to know her father never gave up! I want to be the man that I never could of been before.
In September of 2016, I will be taking on a solo cross-country bicycle ride from Sarasota Florida to San Diego California. The purpose for the trip is simple: I want to show people that broken does not mean beaten.