Why I Lied About My Cardiac Arrest

michael jackson and the bee geesLying About My Cardiac Arrest

Do you know the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest? Don’t worry, I have experienced both and I didn’t know the difference for quite a while afterwards. Sad, but true. My standard response when someone asked what happened to me – “I had a heart attack”. I wasn’t lying or misleading intentionally, I just didn’t fully understand what I had been through.

Looking back, I think I described my cardiac event as a heart attack because the concept of heart attack was more familiar to me than cardiac arrest. After all, both my father and brother had suffered heart attacks at the age of 39. It was a family tradition! One of the first things I said when I woke up in the hospital was “I beat them”. Meaning, I lasted until I was 41 before having my heart attack. I beat them in another way also, my heart attack came with a cardiac arrest.

The Truth from Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s death made me realize he and I were similar in ways far beyond our dancing skills. It was an article that I read about his death that finally made me understand the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest. It says a lot about my intellect that I didn’t take notice of this a year earlier when Tim Russert suffered a fatal cardiac arrest. A heart attack is plumbing – your arteries are blocked. A cardiac arrest is electrical – your heart stops beating (think death). Here are the differences and how I experienced each:

  • A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery prevents blood from reaching a section of the heart. My arteries were a mess. An initial angiography at the hospital demonstrated multivessel coronary artery disease with the right coronary artery 99% blocked.
  • Symptoms may be immediate and intense, or they may start slowly and persist for hours, days or weeks before the attack occurs. My wife said I had complained of feeling run down or tired for several days prior to collapsing.
  • The heart usually does not stop beating during a heart attack. Once I had the heart attack, I moved on to cardiac arrest, so my heart did stop beating.
  • Cardiac arrest occurs suddenly and often without warning. Since my cardiac arrest was the consequence of an acute inferior posterior infarct (heart attack) there was a little bit of a warning.
  • Cardiac arrest is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat. My electrical systems was in a definite state of malfunction. Paramedics performed CPR and shocked my heart from v-fib (cardiac arrest) to a-fib (irregular heartbeat).

For those that are more visual, check out this Cardiac Arrest versus Heart Attack Infographic provided by the American Heart Association for a great depiction of the differences.

Saved by the Bee Gees

So how did I survive both a heart attack and cardiac arrest? After all, the odds are not good. According to the American Heart Association, over 90% of those suffering a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital died. I survived because of the quick actions of my wife and a team of paramedics and doctors. My wife immediately started CPR which was then continued by paramedics when they arrived. They also shocked me with a defibrillator and gave me a quick shot of epinephrine.

So you may be wondering about the role of the Bee Gees in my survival. Guidance for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) states that hand compressions should be administered hard and fast to the middle of chest at 100 beats per minute, roughly the same amount of beats per minute on the Bee Gees “Staying Alive” track. How do I know my CPR was administered hard and fast? They broke my sternum! And I stayed alive.

I don’t recommend relying on Michael Jackson for your cardiac education and the Bee Gees to save your life. Hopefully, you are now aware of the basic difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest. I do recommend avoiding both if possible. You can do so living a healthy lifestyle. Stay tuned for an upcoming series full of heart healthy lifestyle tips.

Photo credit: Sheba_Also / Foter /Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


  1. Paul Miller says:

    Great information, I look forward to finding out how to avoid those tramatic events. I’m glad you survived so you could inform us.


  1. […] Give 30 chest compression at 100 beats per minute (see Stayin Alive) […]

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