I had pneumonia in 2007. The way I was feeling felt very much like I felt then, minus the fever. I was tired and fatigued all of the time; I couldn’t do much of anything without stopping to rest; I didn’t sleep well at night, but I would fall to sleep watching television and sometimes in the middle of a conversation. I even fell asleep at the funeral of one of our good friend’s wife. The thought of having heart disease, or anything like it, never crossed my mind.
I had my annual physical and six month check-ups in between and nothing ever came up. When I told my doctor about my fatigue and shortness of breath, his answer was that I was not as young as I once was and I needed to take it easy. He is no longer my doctor. On October 25, 2012, I told my wife that if I did not feel better the next day, I wanted her to take me to the doctor before it turned into full-fledged pneumonia.
On Friday, October 26, 2012, I went to a walk-in clinic thinking I would get a shot and some antibiotics and be fine. Man, was I wrong. After chest x-rays, blood work, and an EKG, the doctor came in and said, “The good news is you don’t have pneumonia. The bad news is you are going into heart failure. We have called an ambulance to take you to the emergency room right now”. After a few days in ICU and a battery of tests, the doctor who was to be my surgeon came in and said, “For all intent and purposes, we should not be having this conversation because you should not be here. It is a good thing you have not had a heart attack because your heart is so weak, there is no way you would survive. If you do not do what I am about to tell you we need to do, you will be lucky if you make it home and if you do make it home, you won’t last much longer”. I had 99% blockage on one side of my heart and 100% blockage on the other side. My ejection fraction was at less than 15% when it should have been no less than 35%. Being told that the alternative to surgery involved going into the afterlife was a shock to say the least and something that I really wasn't interested in putting to the test. Although he thought I was going to require a quadruple bypass, once the surgery started on Halloween Day of 2012, I had a triple bypass and a mitral cardial valve repair.
This has been a tough road. The mental aspect of the recovery is much more challenging than the physical side, in my opinion. I remind myself regularly that there are others who have gone through the same thing I have and much more and have done fine and are living a productive life. Reading other stories and updates definitely helps. The support of my friends has meant the world to me. My family has been my rock, especially my wife. She has not only been my caregiver, she has been, and is, my rock. After 32 years, I still don't know what I did to deserve her, but I am glad I did it! I am healthier now than I have been in a very long time. I eat healthy; I exercise every day; and I am a non-smoker for a little over a year after having been a smoker for 30+ years. Most importantly, I feel good.
I feel fortunate to be here. I have long held the opinion that every day on this side of the grass is a great one. That opinion has really resonated and grown stronger after this episode. My philosophy on life: I don't have a choice about growing old. I do, however, have a choice about growing up and I refuse!
The American Heart Association’s goal of reducing heart disease by 20% by the year 2020 is an aggressive one. Based on the current U.S. population, that 20% reduction represents some 21 million people. A goal like this would be all but insurmountable without a grassroots organization like the AHA. I want that 21 million to include every member of my family. Doing all I can to ensure that my family is free from heart disease, and being a survivor and a heart patient myself, makes it vitally important for me to “walk the walk instead of talk the talk”. Being an advocate of this great organization is my way of walking the walk and I am proud to be associated with them.