First of all, I need to share these important facts. Heart disease is the #1 killer in the United States claiming one out of four deaths. But for women this killer is even more effective, killing one out of three. In fact, heart disease claims more female lives than all of cancer combined!
If you are not taking steps to eat better, add color to your food, move more and live a reduced-stress life, you are literally taking your life into your own hands.
However I am not here to lecture readers on healthy habits, although I do like to raise awareness with those alarming statistics. I was floored when I first heard about them. And when did I learn them, you might ask? After I had a heart attack, thank you very much. So now you have the privilege of knowing just how effective and pervasive a killer cardiovascular disease is and you can make lifestyle choices accordingly.
But because you have a heart attack does not mean it is a death sentence. Incredible advancements in technology, coupled with new thinking about exercise and nutrition, make it entirely likely a survivor can live a healthy, richly-textured, soul-filling life! Without doubt, there will be mental obstacles that need to be overcome in your Survivor brain. And you will overcome them.
At the time of this blog’s publishing, I am 48 years old. My heart attack happened mountain biking in October 2016, just two days before my 47th birthday. I spent two days in ICU in recovery having had a stent placed in my left anterior descending artery that had become 100% blocked by the time I arrived at the emergency room. When I returned home from the hospital, and collapsed onto the sofa pondering what life was going to be like with this new disease, I made my first goal. I would be skiing by Christmas.
I’m a lifelong avid skier and if I’m not able to ski, my life might as well be over (not really, but you get the point). And I definitely wasn’t ready for that to be the case, so I attacked Cardiac Rehab with gusto and listened intently to everything my doctor, nurses and nutritionist said. Baby steps around the block turned into confident gaits up steep trails and eventually I was running on the treadmills at Rehab. Christmas Day, I skied. And I’ve been skiing ever since.
My next goal was to get back onto my mountain bike. In February of 2017, I sat on a special exercise bike at my cardiac center and did a stress test. I passed with flying colors! I got the greenlight to bike again and soon thereafter I wrapped up Cardiac Rehab. I wasn’t able to get on my bike right away due to weather and busy weekends skiing. Once spring came around, my chance to jump on my bike got derailed as I came down with 100% coverage, double lung pneumonia in early May and was back on leave from work. Finally, in June, I hopped on my mountain bike and rode the exact trail I had been on when disaster nearly struck! I did it!
I decided to tackle another goal, sit on a long flight without fear. This may seem trivial, but I had mental demons warning me that I could have another cardiac episode on the plane and there wouldn’t be a doctor on board to save me. What if, what if, what if? Last August I flew to Europe to visit with family in Belgium. Flying isn’t an issue for me.
Finally, I’ve tackled my most recent obstacle. I wanted to scuba dive with my teenage son during a Hawaiian vacation. My wife and I became certified during our honeymoon twenty years ago and every now and again we do a dive. But I’ll admit that the thought of anything happening underwater did slightly test my nerves prior to submerging off the coast of Kauai. What if something happened 30-40 feet underwater? I wasn’t about to let that thinking stop me having this wonderful experience with my son. And, to be honest, once we went under and the ocean was in front of me I only enjoyed the reef, marine life and watching him evolve into a very good scuba diver. Not once did I have a “what if?” thought during our two tank dive.
I’m not trying to paint myself as a Survivor superhero, not at all. There are many Survivors doing really incredible things out there! I am having the time of my life and instead of worrying about my disease I focus on living the best life I can. Also, I want to let others know that if you survive don’t fear what isn’t worth being scared of. The fear and negative energy is destructive. Instead, listen to your cardiologist, nurses and nutritionist and set goals for yourself to live the life you’ve dreamed of living. You’ve got a second chance to do that now. Don’t treat it as a death sentence.
With this second chance, I’m also helping spread heart health awareness and driving preventative action as a Board Member of Via Heart Project and a volunteer for the American Heart Association. If you want to get involved, please connect with me!