Back when I was running a lot, I used to meet up with friends for long runs on Saturday mornings. One of those friends, Steve Mbuvi, was always one of my favorites to run with. A running machine with a sense of humor and a heavy African accent, Steve made the miles go by faster than if I were on my own.
One day at work, I got a call from one of the other guys who joined us regularly on those Saturday morning runs saying that Steve was helping decorate his church and while at the top of a ladder, had fallen. The ER docs determined he had suffered a heart attack. As is routine procedure for heart attack victims, he was given various drugs, including blood thinners.
What the doctors didn’t realize, however, was that when he fell, he hit his head, which caused internal bleeding. The blood thinners proved fatal and as the bleeding increased, he fell into a coma, and soon after died, leaving behind a wife and 2 daughters.
Most of us continued to meet on those Saturday morning runs and ironically, Steve was buried along the exact route we always took, right under a large tree a few steps from the golf course. So, about 8 or 9 miles into our run, we would stop and catch our breath at his grave site and reminisce about all the entertaining things he would say during our time together.
My ex father-in-law was a lifelong fitness fanatic, almost to a fault. He was a 2:40 marathoner, and for those of you who don’t know, that’s an insanely fast time for an amateur. For some perspective, most amateur marathoners today take over 4 hours to complete the distance. My personal best was 3:25; respectable, but not even close.
A competitive triathlete and physical education teacher most of his adult life, every year on his birthday he would run his age in miles…up until he turned 30. Then he reversed it starting at age 31 running 29 miles, 28, etc…
One morning when he was well into his 60s, he went for a run, came home, walked downstairs to the basement and collapsed. The exact cause of death was never really known because an autopsy was never performed but all evidence pointed to a heart attack.
On January 14th of this year, I joined the not so prestigious heart attack club as well but luckily, my blockage was in a very small artery located off the lower right side of my heart so, I’m here to talk about it.
There was never any indication I was at risk. According to the cardiologist who put my stent in, all my major arteries were healthy and clear. In addition, my cholesterol numbers had always been good, and my triglycerides, a measure of fat in the blood, were some of the lowest my doctors had ever seen. I’ve also always loved working out, completing marathons, 5ks and every distance in between, as well as lifting weights as I’ve gotten older. My diet, while never perfect, was far from risky. Still, despite all of that, I had undeniably suffered a heart attack.
So, does any of this change my view on fitness or physically challenging myself? Not at all. From the very beginning I always said being fit absolutely increases your chances of living a long, healthy life, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee it. Genetics are a powerful force and the human body is extremely complex. I run, lift, sweat and push myself further than most because I enjoy it and I feel better when I do it on a regular basis. In short, I do it for me, not to prove I’m better than anybody else or for some false guarantee that I’ll live to be 100.
That brings us to here and now; checked out of the hospital and back home, feeling pretty good and moving forward cautiously. There are areas I know I need to improve on. For one, stress is a very real risk factor because it changes a body’s chemistry. This needs to change and I’m making an effort to learn how to deal with certain stresses or eliminate them from my life completely, if necessary.
I’ve also cleaned up my diet a little more. My diet was never really bad in the first place but I may have enjoyed a few too many pepperoni pizzas and I’ve always had a real weakness for sweets…and wine. I won’t deny myself any of this going forward but I’ll limit them a little more than I used to.
Overall, my doctors have assured me I can expect a full recovery and should have no lasting negative effects. Then again these are the same doctors who said I had a 0.1% chance of having a heart attack in the next 10 years, so with all due respect, I no longer rely on their predictions too heavily. I’ll simply move forward knowing that I got a second chance, unlike so many others, and I’ll just be grateful for that.
I feel I need to finish by acknowledging the incredible treatment I received while in the hospital, from the time my wife drove me to the hospital and I walked, barely, into the ER, to the day I checked out to go home. Doctors and nurses are a unique and special group. In many ways, selfless and tireless in their commitment to caring for those in need. To say I was about to collapse by the time I got to the ER isn’t an exaggeration but the guy who checked me in was calm and cool, while also being fast and efficient.
Within 30 seconds of checking in there was a nurse helping me into a wheelchair. As we proceeded through the double doors and down the hall, she calmly explained where we were going and what they were going to do next. As I was being moved to another room, there was someone committed specifically to making sure my wife got to where I was and that she knew exactly what was happening.
Once in the room there were probably 5 or 6 people moving quickly in and out but every one of them was calm, working in perfect unison with each other. At no point did I feel panicked because they exuded calm and confidence. They moved fast, trust me, but they knew exactly what they were doing. I remember thinking, I’m exactly where I need to be.
At some point a doctor came in, looked at the electrocardiogram and calmly explained to me that I was having a heart attack and in the next few minutes they were going to move me to the cath lab. Once there, they kept the mood light and even joked as they prepped me for the procedure ahead. I was partially knocked out when they inserted a catheter through my wrist, up my arm and to the exact location of my blockage. They were then able to insert a stent to allow blood to again flow unobstructed.
When I woke up in the ICU, the nurses were right there to make sure I had everything I needed. They also made sure my wife had what she needed, giving her extra pillows, blankets and asking her if she needed anything else. That continued every hour I was there, day and night. One nurse on night shift even said if I couldn’t sleep and just wanted to talk, let him know and he would come hang out because that particular night wasn’t very busy. A true caregiver.
Being in a hospital bed connected to numerous wires and tubes isn’t fun. It tests your patience when you probably need it the most. It’s hard to move, turn over, sit up, or sleep and there are constant beeping noises all around you. And, just when you think you’re about to doze off and get some much needed rest, someone always comes in to take your vitals or give you your medication. That said, I couldn’t have asked for a more professional, qualified, and kind team to watch over me while I recovered. For that, I will be forever grateful.