It is just about nine years and nine months since my heart attack. I’ll never forget standing at the counter in my kitchen eating cantaloupe and drinking coffee. I was actually planning on going for a morning walk after I was done but that never happened because before I finished, I noticed a tightness in my chest and I was having a hard time catching my breath. Like most men, I thought it was a temporary discomfort and that it would soon pass. I went upstairs to my bedroom and laid down for a few minutes but that didn’t help at all so I woke up my wife with words to the effect “Honey, I’m not feeling good. I think I need to go the hospital.” I was 47.
I was lucky that the blockage that caused the attack was able to be located, eliminated with an angioplasty procedure and stented without killing me and I considered the whole episode as a wake up call. I made some pretty significant and much needed lifestyle changes as a result of that scare. I became strict about a low fat diet, Iost about 25 pounds and adopted a five-day a week exercise program. I even got healthy enough to run in a couple 5K races. I felt so much better than I had before the heart attack.
Today, almost ten years later, I am at home resting from my second angioplasty procedure. A couple of days ago I was in the same hospital with the same doctor removing another 90% blockage from the same artery as before. The difference this time is there was no heart attack first, just me feeling like shit for the past couple of months. I first noticed it at the gym when I didn’t seem to have the same stamina levels as before. I wrote it off to nagging injuries in my knee and foot which prevented me from going as hard as I had in the past. Then some other little things like being a little winded after climbing stairs or picking up my grand daughter caught my attention, too. I felt tired a lot and got a little concerned with the whole package.
My biggest fear at the time was my aortic valve which has been damaged with scar tissue left over from a bout of rheumatic fever almost 50 years ago. I have been told since then by all my cardiologists that someday that valve would have to be replaced. And since shortness of breath was one of the prevalent symptoms of valve failure, I was certain that a valve replacement was to be my fate. After a visit to my cardiologist and a few stress and nuclear tests, it was determined that I wasn’t making anything up. My heart needed some attention and repair, we just weren’t quite sure what.
I was scheduled for an angiogram within one day to get a closer look at things. With this procedure the doctors would be able to ascertain the exact state of my valve and also look around for any new blockages. If the valve looked bad, they would stop the procedure and schedule me for open heart surgery to fix it and also do any necessary bypasses. If the valve was still functioning at a tolerable level and they found a blockage, they would open that artery and stent it. As I was taken to the operating room and prepped for the procedure, I had no idea of what the outcome would be but I was more than just a little relieved when I heard the doctor say “Tell the family we’re going to stent him.” Of course, I would have preferred not to have been there at all, but given the two options, I think I ended up with the best result.
I must say though, that having my second blocked artery within ten years bothers me. I can understand the first one. I was overweight, got very little exercise, made extremely reckless food choices and had a stressful job. But since that time I corrected all those evils (except the job part) and was back in the same boat again. Admittedly, my work out levels had diminished and I indulged in a little too much cheese and alchohol on occasion, but for the most part I was well behaved. My blood pressure and cholesterol levels were excellent. So what was I doing wrong?
That’s the exact question I asked my doctor the day after the angioplasty. His reply was to stay the course, don’t get discouraged and keep doing what I’m doing. He said that a lot of the patients he stents are back well before the ten year interval and that he thought I had done well to make it that far. He said, “You know, you are fighting your genes with this and you’re going to be fighting them always.” He is right about that. Both my dad and paternal grandfather died at 59 with heart failures. Today I am 57. His words helped me though, and I understand what he said. I am a heart patient.
I have already started to tighten up my eating habits. No cheese, less carbs, more fruits and vegetables, less fats. And in a few days I will start over with cardio exercise and build my heart to amazing levels of aerobic performance. Well, amazing for me anyway. The combination of those things should help me to drop 10 pounds or so and that will also help to reduce the strain on my heart. I just took my reconditioned artery out for a little test drive (a walk around a couple of blocks) and it felt pretty good. Better than it would have felt last week. I don’t know if I have another 10 year warranty on my heart but I feel as though I have dodged another bullet and have been sent another wake up call.
In ten years I will be 67. The new prime of life.