You might think by the title that this column is about Valentine’s Day.
For the record, it’s not. It’s about your heart and real dangers that could affect your life. Each year, approximately 655,000 Americans die from cardiovascular disease, according to the Centers For Disease Control (CDC).
The CDC also says that one person dies every 36 seconds from issues related to cardiovascular disease.
This month is the 57th annual American Heart Month, which is observed by the American Heart Association.
I’m writing in the hopes that this column might help one person realize they may be at risk. You see, in 2020 I almost became a statistic.
Until Jan. 10 2020, I really didn’t pay attention to a lot of things that could have prevented a heart attack.
I’ll admit at 56, I turned 57 last March — that the thought of a heart attack had occurred to me, but I just didn’t think it could happen to me.
Jan. 10 was like any other normal workday for me. I was busy small town newspaper editor and I’d been scrambling between the three counties I had newspapers in. As the managing editor for a group of newspapers, I traveled between offices almost daily. That particular day I’d visited one of our offices to set up a photo studio and at our main office I’d helped get things ready for a rainstorm with potential flooding.
During the day I stopped to try a new deli in one of the towns. I ate a delicious Italian sandwich — note — this will be a key part of the story later. When I returned to our main office I helped our marketing manager run to get bags of sand to put out by our back doors to prevent flooding. All of these things play into the story.
As I look back I realize that I displayed all of the classic heart problem symptoms during the day. Little did I know that it was leading up to a heart attack. Earlier in the day I had mentioned to my boss that my arm hurt. I said the same thing to the editor of the paper where I set up the photo studio.
About 5:30 p.m. I left my office to stop at home before heading to a high school basketball game. I never made it.
I thought the arm pain was from arthritis in my elbow from an old injury. I wrote off the heartburn that wouldn’t go away saying the Italian sandwich caused it. I also was short of breath, but again, I thought it was simply allergies or asthma. But as I let my dog out during the stop at home, my chest began to hurt. Suddenly I realized that these things added up might be a heart attack or leading to a heart attack.
Quite simply put — I’m here because I recognized those signs. The arm pain, the shortness of breath, heartburn that wouldn’t go away and chest tightness/pain are the classic symptoms of a heart attack. Not everyone has all the symptoms and a heart attack can present itself in different ways depending on age and gender.
As I sat in my car I made the decision that instead of going to my ballgame I would go straight to the nearby emergency room. It’s a decision that saved my life. I can’t stress enough how taking quick action meant my life didn’t end that night.
I quickly parked my car at our local ER and walked in and told the receptionist I thought I was having a heart attack. Immediately the staff took me back and as he took my pulse as I sat down, the nurse confirmed what I’d feared. “Mr. Rogers, you’re having a heart attack.”
Quickly the medical team surrounded me and hooked me up to monitors and began administering intravenous fluids. As the pain got worse and my heart rhythm fluctuated, the treatment began. I was given nitroglycerin several times and morphine for the pain.
After several hours I stabilized. Just because you are stabile doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods by any means. I was transported by ambulance to a large metropolitan hospital in my region — one that is known for its cardiac unit.
I was rushed in through a busy emergency room. I was confused as to why I was being taken so quickly. I was rushed to a cardiac lab where a heart catheterization was done to determine blockage and damage.
When I awoke I found out I was given three stents just to prevent another heart attack. The cardiologist then delivered what I thought was really bad news. I’d had a “major cardiac event.” I also had blockage in all of my cardiac arteries. As it turns out, I’ needed a quadruple bypass.
The hospital sent me to ICU and the next morning I met my surgeon. He told me to rest until Monday (it was Saturday at this point) and that first thing Monday morning I needed the surgery. With one artery blocked 100% and the other three between 94 and 98%, I was in grave danger of having a second heart attack — and likely a fatal one.
So with the help of a skilled cardiothoracic surgeon and a great team, I’m here to tell about it. After the surgery I’ve recovered well. I spent a week in the hospital and then returned home to the care of my fiancé in North Carolina. She later became my wife.
I began walking for exercise and now walk up to three miles a day — all within two months of the surgery.
Instead of my friends and family burying me and mourning I’ve returned to the world of the living. Life is good and I’m getting stronger every day and I owe it all to recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack.
Remember that if you’re feeling short of breath it might not be asthma or allergies, it might be heart blockage. The heartburn that doesn’t go away might be a symptom too. Oh, and those achy joints or pain in your left arm? That might be a sign too.
Remember to watch for these signs and eat a healthier diet. The king of gas station hot dogs on the road now eats a lot more grilled chicken and fish — and fresh veggies.
Listen to your heart. I can’t stress this enough. Pay attention to the signs. Had I not paid attention to the signs, I could have died on my way to a ballgame. Your family will thank you when you’re around for holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Mark Rogers is editor of The Sanford Herald. He can be reached by phone at 919-718-1227 or by email at email@example.com.