On January 20, 2007, at age 52 I suffered a major heart attack and received two stents (one in the LAD – 100% blockage, the other in the RCA – 90% blockage). I was lucky and survived. However, due to a random arrhythmia detected while wearing a Holter monitor during my stay in the hospital, it was determined that I also needed an EP (electrophysiology) study to ascertain whether I was at risk for SCA (Sudden Cardiac Arrest) syndrome. Less than 15 minutes into the study my heart went into uncontrollable ventricular fibrillation and stopped pumping. I passed out and it took them two tries with the paddles to bring me back. I nearly died on the table. Because of this they quickly inserted an ICD into my chest on the spot.
Needless to say, this was a wake-up call for me. After being released from the hospital and laying around the house for three months feeling sorry for myself I finally realized I had a choice to make – get healthy or die. I actually thought I was in good shape before this happened to me! My cardiologist put it in perspective when he said, “Heart health is 50% genes and 50% cheeseburger”! I had always known I had bad genes on one side of my family but basically ignored all the warning signs and convinced myself otherwise. But it sneaks up on you. More than 30 years of eating badly, being overweight (I weighed as much as 250lbs. at one time) and only random exercise finally took its toll.
But I made my choice, and for the past two years I have been slowly and methodically building myself up and back to good health. I changed my diet dramatically (fruits, veggies, nuts, lots of fish and lean meats, less junk food and a ton of water – every day) and exercise is my new religion. I started walking daily, baby steps, and was very cautious and scared at first. I certainly didn’t want to die or get shocked trying to get healthy! Now I run 6 to 8 miles daily, hike every weekend for 8 to 10 hours, recently finished an 8-day backpacking trip to Mt. Robson in the Canadian Rockies with a close friend, joined a running club and am currently training for my first marathon this year. I have lost 40+ pounds and plan on losing 10 to 15 more. I got so healthy in fact, that I convinced my EP doctors that I no longer needed the ICD and with a surgery 3 months ago had it removed (happiest day of my life). But the biggest satisfaction for me was getting off “ALL” my medications! No BP meds, no cholesterol meds, no prescriptions at all. I take a baby aspirin a day along with a sensible amount of vitamins, etc., and I make sure to get all the good foods my body needs. BP is normal, cholesterol is normal. I also hit the gym 3 to 5 days a week and lift weights – trying to balance the cardio and get an all-around healthy physique.
When you go thru a life-changing event like I did you start paying attention to your body, especially your heart. I wear a heart monitor religiously (in the beginning out of fear that something might tip me off that I was training too hard, but now just for the sheer joy of seeing my heart getting healthier with time – for the first couple of months I wouldn’t go over 125bpm, but as my confidence built I increased it gradually). Today my average resting heart rate is in the low to mid 50’s (frequently down as low as the mid 40’s) without meds. My max HR routinely hits 176 – 182 at the top of some of the hills I climb – and this is a daily occurrence. I feel fine, and there is never any chest pain – ever. I always time my HR immediately after my peak (max) HR has been reached (to test my 1 minute recovery rate) and without fail it drops by 40+ points within one minute (this is also an indicator of heart health). When I jog (and it’s a slow pace normally – I average a 10-minute mile) my heart will usually level off around 152 to 160bpm depending on the weather, and of course gradually climb as the minutes pass. I’ve had echo cardiograms, sonograms, and stress tests (5 to date) – even a recent cardiac CT angiogram, and the statistics all point to a better than average heart function (ejection fraction is 68%, my VO2 max over 50%). There is almost no evidence of there ever having been a heart attack – and collateral artery growth is evident as well