10 years with a wounded heart

Ten years ago today, (10-26-2008), I was in Afghanistan having a heart attack. The damage from that heart attack forever changed my life, but not in ways I would have expected. Having a heart attack in a remote third world country in the middle of a war zone didn’t do my heart any favors and I was left with permanent damage.

Less then two weeks later, my first day back on US soil, I dropped to the floor dying, my heart in ventricular fibrillation, unable to pump blood to my soon would have been dead body. I will never forget that day I died even though I remember very little about it. I can remember falling towered the floor. In the couple seconds it may have took before hitting the floor as the lights were going out, time seemed to slow down. I was falling, and the floor was getting closer, all as the lights seemed to be dimming out in slow motion. Those couple seconds before contacting the floor, time seemed to stand still. Seconds felt like minutes as 42 years of consciousness was shutting down for what would have been the last time.

Lucky for me, I was in good company that day.  Eric Honkanen, (an Eagle Scout with a CPR badge), and Nick Vukilich, kept me alive by pounding on my chest/heart while breathing air into my lungs until the ambulance arrived and took over. Thankfully, the ambulance attendants were able to jump start my heart with a defibrillator and get me ready for a helicopter ride to my regional heart/trauma center, where I under went a lifesaving procedure.

That was the beginning to a very long journey through through the health care system. By the end of that first year my health problems had only escalated despite everything my doctor(s) could recommend. At this point I was on 13 medications and my life seemed centered around doctor visits, hospital visits, and medical/surgical procedures. It wasn’t long before other health problems/side effects slowly crept up as my health continued to deteriorate. I was repeatedly told by doctors through all this, “that everything I was experiencing was normal for someone in my condition”, and that, ” I needed to except all of this as my new normal”. I long lost count of how many times I was told “I would need to take medication(s) for the rest of my life”, or that, “my heart would not improve”.  According to the doctors I was seeing,  medication was the only way to slow down this free-fall of cascading health issues, and slowing down the progression was the best anyone could hope for. Many times, I sat and listened as doctors lectured me about excepting all this as “my new normal”. At one point I even had a doctor tell me “the terrible side effects I was experiencing from medication(s) was better then what could happen if I stopped taking any of them”. None of this painted a nice picture of my future and I felt like my life completely depended on that big box of medication I was forced to take everywhere I went.

Thankfully, listening to the doctor was never one of my strongest suits, so despite all the discouragement from the same doctors who had initially saved my life, I continued doing everything I could to improve my health by using every opportunity available to  learn everything  I could on heart/health related topics.  I made lots of changes inline with what I was learning/re-learning, and Little by little, my heart started getting stronger and healthier. As I began seeing results, staying the course became easier and easier, and at some point just became my “new normal”.   10 years out and I remain 100% medication free  with non of the heart disease/failure symptoms that once ruled my life. Today, my heart is stronger then what the experts led me to believe was even possible.

Never sell yourself short based on what the experts think you should believe. While modern cardiac/trauma care is nothing less then miraculous short term, healthy lifestyle habits provide the best outcome long term. You are the one in control your health, not your doctor. The food you eat, the amount of sleep you get, exercise, fresh air, sunshine, stress management, the environment you choose to live in, even the people you choose to surround yourself with, all part of the equation making up your current bill of health. 10 years out and my life ROCKS… Heart disease has nothing on this lifestyle…

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