February is considered Heart Month by the American Heart Association. It means something to me because I am a heart attack survivor.
The men in my family are very healthy except for one major health flaw: Around the age of 50, blockages in the heart have caused almost every one of us to either have stents or open heart surgery.
My father is 87 and has had an open heart surgery and a few stents. My uncles all have had heart problems, and, although two have died in the last couple of years, they all lived into their 80s with the exception of one who is almost there.
The reasons they’ve lived so long are modern medicines and modern techniques. To all those who have given to money to support this research, I am eternally grateful.
I almost wasn’t here to write this story because I made a decision to play with my mortality.
At age 50, I started to experience some pressure in my chest. Even though only six months before my annual physical had turned out perfectly, it was determined that I had five serious blockages. The clinic that diagnosed this disease lined me up with a cardiologist, but I never went.
Instead I accepted a new job in California and left the sunny beaches of North Carolina and continued with my career.
Over the next two years, I still felt that pressure in my chest, sometimes two or three times a day, but I continued working, drinking and doing everything I normally had been doing.
Sometimes if I was walking down the street with someone, the pressure would become so great that I would have to stop for about 30 seconds; I would ask people to look at a bird or a picture in a window to cover this up.
I never told my wife Molly the truth about how I felt until one day as we walked across a large mall and I turned ashen. The pain was so bad I asked her to bring the car around because I could not make it back across that mall.
Molly had had enough. The next day I was at Kaiser Hospital in Hollywood, and the next week I had five blood vessels replaced. Today I still have scars on my arm, leg and chest to remind me of that act of stupidity.
Two years later we were on vacation in the California mountains. On the day after Thanksgiving, as I was walking the dogs at 6 a.m., I felt that old chest pain. Again I thought that it would go away; it did not.
I was fortunate that there was a small clinic nearby. By the time I found it, I was in so much pain I could barely stand it.
They started me on morphine and for the next six hours, which included a final ride on a helicopter, I experienced a full-fledged heart attack.
The attack actually lasted for 11 hours.
When they got me into the hospital at Long Beach, it was too late to do anything. I found out later that more than 35 percent of my heart was destroyed.
This heart attack was not caused by any of the veins that I had major work on but by two tiny ones in one of the lower quadrants of my heart.
Later I found out that it was a miracle for me that the little clinic on the mountain had some experimental drug that most clinics that size didn’t have and that saved my life.
During the whole ordeal it never occurred to me that I could have died.
I wrote this story not for you to feel sorry for me or to cause you to think that I was an idiot.
I wrote it because if reading this causes either you or a loved one to call a cardiologist and take the full spectrum of tests that are now available, especially if there is a history of heart disease in your family, then I have accomplished something.
You need to do this because I always passed the electrocardiogram and I also made it through the normal stress test; it was only when they gave me the nuclear tests that they discovered my blockages.
I ask you to do yourself a favor and don’t wait, because every minute you wait might be the last minute you have.
If you would like to talk with me about my experience, please feel free to call me at 770-787-6397 or drop me a note at email@example.com.
I will always take the time.
T. Pat Cavanaugh is the publisher of The News. You can reach him at 770-787-6397 or firstname.lastname@example.org.