In His Own Words: Living After a Heart Attack
Bill, 72, never suspected he had a heart problem, until suffering a heart attack three years ago. While in the emergency room, the retired, South Carolina construction inspector's heart stopped and was jolted back to life. These days, he feels great and appreciates each day.
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
I was mowing the backyard when I had my first warning, which I didn't heed. A week later, I went to my daughter's home to get out of the path of a hurricane. While walking the dog, I felt the pain again. It subsided when I stopped walking. Once home again and unloading the car, it happened again. So I called the doctor. He made arrangements to meet me at the emergency room.
What was the diagnosis experience like?
An EKG in the emergency room showed up fine. They sent me home with some nitroglycerine and instructions to follow up with my doctor for a stress test. Two hours later, I knew I had a problem. The chest pain was severe and constricting. I felt nauseous. I took the nitroglycerine, but it didn't help. So I called EMS (emergency medical services). They took me back to the hospital. I went into cardiac arrest and was resuscitated. A heart catheterization showed blockages, so the doctor did bypass surgery. About six weeks later, while my wife and I were having breakfast, a pain hit me in the chest that surprised me a little. I knew what it was. After the EMS delivered me to the hospital, the doctors found the right coronary artery bypass had a blockage in it. The doctor attempted to open the artery up, but it was too calcified.
What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?
It didn't scare me. I know people who had gone through a bypass surgery. So I figured I had a good chance of surviving it. I like to believe that I'm a positive thinker. You have to maintain a positive attitude. If you don't, it's like a strike–no–make that two strikes against you. I don't dwell on my heart. I don't have any complaints as long as I'm looking down at the blades of grass rather than facing up at the roots. God's letting me stay so I can spoil my five grandchildren.
How is a heart attack treated?
After the bypass surgery, I started a rehabilitation program at the hospital. The blockage set me back. But after that, I started rehab again. The rehab program taught me how to deal with it. They completely changed my eating habits and got me on a real good exercise program. I also take quite a few medications.
Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to the heart attack?
I used to eat a lot for the taste. I like cheese and anything with a lot of fat. The nutritionist at the rehab program had a one-on-one with me and gave me a fat budget to go by, which I have done. My wife decided to follow the diet too. We figured that we'd both eat that way.
Three times a week, I do a 50-minute workout, riding a stationary bike, stepping and rowing on the machines, walking on a treadmill and using six weight machines. I golf one day a week and exercise at home on another day.
Did you seek any type of emotional support?
A friend of mine was active in Mended Hearts, and he came to talk to me in the hospital after my bypass surgery. It was nice hearing from someone who had been through it. Now my wife and I go out and visit people as Mended Hearts volunteers. I have some friends who have been through a heart attack and have had a hard time. They come and talk to me.
Did the heart attack have any impact on your family?
We eat healthier. I'm still active and live a full life. A couple of times when I went into cardiac arrest, it scared my wife pretty badly.
What advice would you give to anyone living with a heart attack?
Diet and exercise–they are an absolute must if you want to live as long as possible. The nutritionists and rehab people know what they are doing. If they make suggestions, listen to them.