John’s Story: Heart Attack to Heart Health
I never really went around thinking I was going to have a heart attack. It was one of the farthest things from my mind. I thought it’d be nearly impossible for me to have a heart attack. But I did, and it was quite a rude awakening. I got up that morning and had cereal for breakfast, as usual, and went down and worked out on my treadmill for about 35 minutes. I was just walking through the bedroom to pick up my car keys and all of a sudden I felt this tremendous pressure. I got a call from him. He thinks he’s having a heart attack. I didn’t know what a heart attack was before but, boy, I knew it then. It was no doubt in my mind I was having a heart attack. I said call 911 and do you know where the aspirin is? Well, no. Neither one of us take the aspirin. I said I think it’s in my medicine cabinet. So I look for the aspirin and I couldn’t find it. And I did call 911 right away. All the way to the hospital I thought I know he’s having chest pains, he says, but there’s no way he’s having a heart attack. But when we got in the emergency room and I saw him, and the pain he was in in his chest, there was no question. It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever had in my life. My health has been excellent all my life. I’ve been very blessed. I’d never been in a hospital before my heart attack and didn?t know what it looked like in there, hardly. I was a pilot in the Air Force. Well, I played some sports before that but the combination of the two sort of gave me a work ethic as far as physical exercise was concerned. We walk together and we walk most every morning. I’ve always been interested in staying in shape and so forth. I’m the one that is responsible for meal preparation. We’ve always, I think, had very healthy diets. John and I, both, have always gone and we have our three-month appointments. We have a yearly check-up. We do all the things we thought were proper. I would say his risk factor for heart disease is really high blood pressure, which he had. And he’d had his cholesterol checked regularly as well as he was on blood-pressure medicine, I’m on blood pressure medicine. He had had a stress-test, a regular stress-test, which he passed with flying colors but we know that you can have a stress-test that’s normal and later have a plaque that ruptures that results in an acute event, like he did. I was very aware of my family history. Family history of heart disease is also a risk factor. My brother had a heart attack twenty years before. He was fifty-eight. Everybody on my mother’s side has died of heart attack or stroke, so apparently I got my mother’s genes.=There are certain things that we have control over and other things that we don’t have control over. We can’t give away our parents so our family history, we don’t have control over that. Our sex, we don’t. Our age, we don’t. But other things that we can control are blood pressure, our cholesterol level, our blood-sugar level. Taking aspirin or platelet inhibitors. If you’re a smoker and you’ve had an event it?s absolutely important that you stop smoking and we stress that very much. How much we exercise, how active we are, those are things that we can control. And I think getting involved in all those things is very important. In the case of Mr. Wagner, you can do all those things and still have an event. Well, I think the main lesson we learned from this scenario is that, although he had previously not had any symptoms at all, the day he had symptoms he was smart enough to go right away to the hospital. We were able to identify that he was having a heart attack and intervene immediately. And he’s the kind of patient we want to see. We want to see people while they have serious issues, but before they have irreversible damage. I had a five-way bypass. It was a very difficult procedure for him to go through. So yes, he did need surgery, but by doing everything right before his recovery was much easier. How you go into it does help how you come out of it. I referred him to the rehab and he actually did very well. I went there three times a week. The nurses up at the hospital that are with him were excellent. I was concerned, particularly early on, that I might never get back to where I was, but that went away within a few weeks because I could see how fast I was progressing. I think there’s no doubt that my lifestyle and my exercising before the heart attack definitely made my recovery much, much faster than it would have been. As traumatic as it was and as hard as it was, he survived it and together we’ve come through it and he’s leading a very normal life today. I think he’s traveling, hiking, climbing, exercising. I thought, yep, this is it. I’m back. This is going to be good. Can we, as a society, improve our overall heart and health conditions? Absolutely. Everyone should have a conversation about their heart. Bottom line is you’ve got to be proactive and you’ve got to be concerned about yourself if you really want to be healthy. A lot of this is within our control. If you choose to smoke, if you choose not to take care of your diabetes, if you choose not to exercise and if you choose to be overweight there are consequences for those actions. It is never too late and it doesn’t matter what state you’re in, there is some type of exercise that you can participate in. All you have to do is get out there and walk. It makes you feel so much better. Controlling those things that we have control over: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar. We have it within our capacity. Be a part of your care, and just not leave it to the physicians. I’ve had a lot of friends say they were so shocked by my heart attack that it’s going to change their lifestyle. We’re America. We can send somebody to the moon. We certainly can take care of ourselves.