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The following is a repost of a Facebook blog of mine from March of 2014 when the Lord saved me from dying of a heart attack.  It includes a few updates near the end.

I am a new heart disease survivor. Two weeks ago my brother-in-law Keith and I ran about 3 miles. Friday I had 3 stents placed in my heart where there were 2 – 90% blockages and one 99% blockage. One of the blockages was in the widow-maker. I am so thankful for doctors who helped diagnose and treat me, my family and their faith and encouragement, but I want to acknowledge in the most heartfelt manner my thanks to the Lord for making it clear to move and move quickly.

I want to share a few warning signs for others so you can benefit from my experience.

The first sign that something was not right was getting winded heading up the steps to the daily meeting I attend at 9 am. It was only a few steps but it was enough that I noticed. My thought was that I had to get back into condition. The wild weather this winter combined with lots of long days at the plant had gotten me out of my routine.

The next sign was that I could not run as well when I did run. Keith and I have been enjoying 2 – 3 miles runs over the past several months. It is good exercise and fun to talk about life. But I actually had to stop during a couple of runs. There was one run a month ago that, looking back now, was a clear sign something was up. But I laughed it off and then ran two miles after that convincing myself I was okay, just out of practice.

About a week and a half ago I got home with enough light to run and I did. But the entire run was a challenge. I remember at 2 miles clearly thinking something’s not right because my legs felt like lead and I was laboring with my breathing. I should have said something to Lisa but I didn’t.

Tuesday of this week. The clearest description of what my symptom felt like was to put on a very tight t-shirt. That uncomfortable tightness across your chest that makes it hard to breath. Well I experienced that for 15 seconds going to the morning meeting. A little annoying. That evening I took the wheelbarrow and some tools to the back yard and when I got there I had the sensation for 45 seconds. OK, now I was beginning to be concerned. After supper I took Lisa for a walk and told her what had been going on. We agreed I needed to get checked out.  I am not positive that I would have gone before our big trip though.  You see we were a week and a half from heading to Rome and then Israel.  But there was this dream…

That night I had the dream. I walked into a garage on a very windy day. As leaves blew in I thought to get a broom and sweep them out. As I began to step in for the broom I noticed a coffee table with a ball of snakes underneath. I realized they were poisonous and one broke free from the ball and came at me. I knew it was coming to get me. I took one step back and thought to myself, “I’ve got to deal with this.” At that instant my alarm went off. And shouting in my memory was the thought, I’ve got to deal with this.

That morning I was in the doctor’s office. Vitals all looked good but the EKG was A-typical. A call to the cardiologist and I was in their office the next day. I thought a stress test was the next step but after looking at my EKG and hearing my symptoms, the doctor put me in for a heart catheritization the next day. I went in mostly hoping that they would find everything fine, but instead they found and repaired three blockages. An overnight stay in the hospital and I was home before noon on Saturday with 90 mm of SS mesh tubing in my heart. Honestly my head is spinning when I think about the implications.

Addendum from a month plus after the fact:

That return home from the hospital was exactly one week before we flew out for Rome for 5 days and then on to Israel.  The day before we flew out I had a final check with the the cardiologist to make sure everything was still a go.  I met with a different doctor this time and I shared my story with her.  She listened politely and as I finished she said, “You quite possibly would have died on that trip.”  My wife now completes the story by letting everyone know that I definitely would have died.  One of the sites we visited in Israel was Masada, Herod’s mountain top fortress in the Judean dessert.  It is on a high plateau above the Dead Sea.  When we arrived the guide gave us two choices.  We could ride the cable car up the 1000 plus feet or we could hike up the winding trail.  Because of the doctor’s orders to take it very easy for six weeks I really had no choice, it was the cable car for me.  But as Lisa correctly points out I would have chosen the steep trail… in the desert… up the mountain which almost assuredly would have brought on a heart attack. 

And the name of that trail… the Snake Trail.

Practical Learnings from my Experience:

FITNESS ALONE DOES NOT PROTECT YOU.
For the past 7 years I have become a runner. The past three years I averaged running 15 – 20 miles a week. In preparation for the Cooper River Bridge Run last April I was running 30 miles a week. One of the reasons I took up running was because my Dad had a heart attack at age 54 and I wanted to be sure I didn’t have that problem. I completed the 6.2 miles of the Cooper River Bridge run in less than 49 minutes… I thought I had NO PROBLEMS with any ole heart problems because I was FIT!

STRESS IS NOT YOUR FRIEND.
Over the past few months the stress level at work has increased significantly. While we have been successful in many ways there is still so much to be done… and I take a lot of responsibility for trying to keep my team and the plant progressing. Lately at least 4 different co-workers had asked me if I was okay and they encouraged me to take it easy and not push myself so hard. I realized this morning looking in the mirror how much different I look. I was worn out and tired most of the time and stress was a major reason. This morning I look 5 years younger.

EATING RIGHT IS NOT A GAME.
In addition to the stress I had some opportunities in my diet. I was not a terrible eater and I had made substitutes over the past few years to go “heart healthy”. I added fish to my diet and lot’s of chicken. Red meat had been a staple but I was down to 2 – 3 times a week usually. However it was more of a game than a lifestyle. If I decided I wanted a cookie, I told myself I’d just run a little extra distance. When I did eat red meat it was a well-marbled rib-eye. To balance it out I began eating the petite portion size. I was not committed to a healthy diet. I assumed that I was fit and my vitals were always very good when I got tested so it was OK for me to cheat on the heart healthy diet.

REGULAR CHECK-UPS MEANS MORE OFTEN THAN EVERY FIVE YEARS
Okay, I guess I have uncovered another area where I went astray. As I approached 50 I had a full physical. Since then I have had annual screenings where they check my vitals and tell me they look very good. I had even gotten a little smug… “yeah my heart rate is always real low like that because I’m a runner and I take care of myself” sort of smug. I am ashamed at this moment but I have committed to being honest and transparent in hopes my experience can help others so there is the truth of it. Last fall I set up a full check-up which I canceled 30 minutes prior because we had some crisis going at work. Having good intentions but not carrying through = 0. The result is exactly the same as never having thought of doing the right thing. In my case a November check-up might have revealed a problem that could have been dealt with in a simpler manner.

OTHER RISK FACTORS: SMOKING, DRINKING, CAFFEINE
For myself the other risk factors have not been an issue. I recognize that they are known to be harmful to me and to a degree to those who would be around me, so I don’t smoke or consume alcohol or caffeine.

As I mentioned before my head spins as I think of the implications… I had a time bomb in my chest getting close to going off… I almost missed the warning signs… I can’t hide behind being “fit” to ward off everything that can take me down… God knows me well enough to know I needed a nudge (OK more like a push) from that dream to move and move quick.

One final thing that I remembered a little while ago and told my wife. On Thursday morning as I was heading to work I turned on His Radio for a little soothing music. While I was not scared exactly, I was running through my mind the likely paths this would take. The possibility that there was a problem with my heart was high on the list. You can’t help but to think about the what if’s in such a situation? What if I don’t survive and my family has to deal with my loss. About that time a song came on and the refrain repeated God’s words to us – “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you”. As the melody and these words soaked into my soul the tears came. Not tears of sadness, but tears of joy and release. I KNOW that God lives and that He is in control of my life. He has given me stewardship my time on earth, but as I release my life to Him I can trust Him completely. He gave me a crazy dream about snakes at exactly the time I needed it to motivate me to head to the doctor. Today I celebrate the reality of Who He is and another marvelous thing He has done for me and my family.

Today as I re-read what I posted right after my stents, I am overwhelmed anew by thankfulness.  There are several aspects of this story that are extremely encouraging, but the one that stands out to me is the timing of the dream.  If it had been in the middle of the night I doubt I would have remembered it, but climaxing at the instant my alarm went off was exactly what I needed to motivate me.  The Lord still has things for me to do here and He gave me the necessary nudge to keep me here.  And somehow my having heart disease weaves into His plan for me.  Another one of my life verses comes to mind this morning. From Proverbs 3:5&6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

Lord thank you for this life you have given me.  I surrendered my life to you many years ago, but I realize that this process is on-going.  Today I give you thanks for my body and how it is made – even the heart disease that I live with, because I know you are able to use it for the greater good.  Please use it and use me to faithfully proclaim the Good News of Who You are and what You have done.  Open eyes, ears, and hearts to the beautiful, wonderful reality of You.  I love you Lord.

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