My Heart Attack Anniversary – 7 Years Later

Me at the Beach

I missed a very important anniversary last week.  July 1st marked 7 years since my cardiac arrest, heart attack and bypass. As the author of a heart attack blog, it’s a little odd that I missed my own anniversary.  On the other hand, I was at the beach enjoying time with my family.  Celebration enough.

Se7en

No, I won’t be writing about the seven deadly sins – maybe what led to my heart attack.  Instead,  a quick post to highlight the 7 things I am most grateful for on this lucky anniversary:

  1. Being alive
  2. Having a wonderful family
  3. Having great friends
  4. Having a healthy lifestyle
  5. Having the ability to relax
  6. Having a job that provides for my family and I
  7. Having the experience of death

I didn’t put a lot of thought into this list and number 7 may seem a little strange.  I am sure it will evolve and grow over time – at least to 8 by this time next year. That’s it for now – Paul

Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery Series

heart cloudsAs a survivor of both a cardiac arrest and heart attack, people often ask me “how are you feeling…you doing ok?” For several years, I usually just responded with “fine, doing great”. However, that question always reminded me that I was not doing great.

Even after getting a second chance at life, I hadn’t made many changes in my life to ensure I would enjoy this rare opportunity. The problem was, healthy living didn’t come naturally to me and I had no idea where to start. In fact, I was heading in the opposite direction.  Sound familiar?

After much trial and error, I have developed an approach to improving my overall health and it finally seems to be working.  I will share my approach in a four-part series I call “Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery”. The series outlines the steps I am taking to simplify my life, exercise, eat right, and reduce stress.

Lost, Broken Down, and Out of Gas

I didn’t start out with a plan. As with most things I do in life, I knew the end goal (improved cardiac health in this case) but I had no idea how to get there. Imagine if someone asked you to go on a road trip. Most people would plan a route and gas up the car before leaving. Not me, I would jump in the car and start driving in a general direction with the hope of getting there.

Sure, I would have an adventure in front of me and probably experience some pretty cool things along the way. I would also end up lost, broken down, and out of gas. Even if I got there, I would be a mess upon arrival. While this approach can be fun, it is also exhausting and many times results in failure….or a heart attack!

So knowing that, you may ask “why is this guy writing about a cardiac health plan?” Well, I’m not quite the irresponsible manchild I was at 41 when my cardiac event occurred. I finally realized the need to take things into my own hands, and coincidentally, a plan developed.

What I am about to outline is not easy. Changing the way you think and live while balancing family, work (notice how I put that second), and life can seem daunting, especially if you are in the early stages of your cardiac recovery. Or, maybe like me, you were just bound by the pleasure of your vices. For years, I rationalized my bad habits and postponed good habits:

  • I will quit smoking when I am 20…30…40.
  • I will start exercising when I quit smoking.
  • I will start eating healthy when I start exercising.
  • I will get healthy when my first child is born.
  • I will get healthy when my second child is born.

I knew this was ridiculous behavior, especially with my genetic history. Yet, I continued to do nothing to change. Whether you are trying to prevent your first heart attack, or you are recovering from you third, the first step is easy: Make the decision to change and then commit.

Roadside Assistance

The Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery series is based upon my own experience in changing the way I think and committing to a healthier life. Very little of this happened in the first four years after my event. I guess it took me a little while to figure out I had a role in determining the success and longevity of my recovery. Here is my basic plan and the topics of this upcoming series:

  • Simplify your life – Clear the distractions and focus on what is important.
  • Stop eating crap – Experiment with healthy eating.
  • Get off your ass – Start moving, slowly at first, but start moving.
  • Relax – Personally, I find this one the hardest.

You may be in the early stages of your cardiac recovery and find all of this a bit overwhelming. Or like me, you could be several years into your recovery and looking for way to shed your manchild ways. Either way, it is important to take the first step. You may want to just pick one area of focus, start slowly, and build towards a healthy lifestyle.

Keep in mind I am a cardiac patient, not a doctor. Should you decide to start make significant changes to your diet or exercise regime, talk to your doctor first. I do so, but only because my wife makes me do it.

Next up: Simplifying your Life

The full series of Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4

Photo credit: aivas14 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Why I Had a Heart Attack Party

dancingWho doesn’t love a good heart attack party?  A little before the one-year anniversary of my cardiac event, my family and I started joking that my 1st birthday was approaching.  After all, one of the many benefits of coming back from the dead is you get two birthdays.

My original birthday means another year older.   My new birthday means the gift of another year with family and friends.  We realized how lucky we were to have this amazing gift, a second chance at life, so we decided a party was in order.

We started out calling the event a “second chance party” but somehow “heart attack party” stuck.  As for the name “heart attack party”, I posted earlier about my tendency to describe my cardiac arrest and heart attack singularly as a “heart attack”.  Whatever we called the party, the purpose was celebrate and show gratitude for a second chance at life.  If you know my story, you know that I have a lot to be grateful for:

  • Having survived a cardiac arrest and heart attack.  Less than 10% survive such an event.  I needed a reminder of just how lucky I was.

  • Having successful bypass surgery – My arteries were cleaned out!  A fresh start and a defibrillator implanted “just in case”.

  • Having an awesome wife – This is a big one.  She found me in cardiac arrest and saved my life.  As a bonus, a few month into my recovery, she gave birth to our son.

  • Having two beautiful young children – Kids love parties.  Especially parties with moon bounces.

  • Having a great family – When I went down, my family went into action.  They put their lives on hold and  stayed by our sides throughout my recovery process.

  • Having great friends – Friends and neighbors rallied as well.  Meals and babysitting were much appreciated!

  • Having a great job – My boss and company made sure my family had the support we needed during my extended vacation.

With the gift that I was given, my list should be much longer, but this was a good start for the heart attack party.  If you are truly feeling Zen and want to read more on the benefits of feeling grateful, take a look at this post by Leo Babauta.

Although I haven’t been to any other heart attack parties for comparison, I think our’s was a great success.  We had a pool and moon bounce for the kids and plenty of food and drink for the adults.  Keeping with my long history of passive aggressive behavior, I served BBQ and grilled Italian sausages at the heart attack party.  Keeping with her tradition of being a rock, my wife gave a very touching public thank you to our family and friends.

Although we don’t have the party annually anymore, we are not done being grateful.  Our plan is to have another one at my ten year anniversary/birthday.  Let me know if you are coming.

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