Jan 30
TJC
TJC , Posted on SUPPORT NETWORK Blog

Dodging Death

For the past twelve years I have carved four or five days out of my week, to slide into a pair of shorts, slip on a light t-shirt, tie on a pair of trail running shoes and head out into the foothills or mountains to clear my head and surround myself in beauty... running through what has amounted to many tens of thousands of miles of trails.
Six days ago, a mere ten days after my 50th birthday, I headed out for a mid day run behind my house, located in a canyon winding up to the foothills of the Andes Mountains in Santiago, Chile.  I returned after a few hours, jumping into my pool, to cool down & clear the dust and sweat from my body. Within a few minutes, I started to feel my left arm becoming very heavy, with a dull pain in the shoulder, causing me to make what amounted to a wise decision, to get out of the pool.  Within minutes the pain became almost unbearable, so I started walking down toward my house, as I entered my bedroom I started to feel a heaviness from within my chest, as if something was trying to push my heart and lungs from within my body... causing me to lay on my bed; stomach down. I quickly found myself ruminating through the many bulleted lists of heart attack symptoms that I had seen since I was a 23 year old college kid, which happened to be the year that a doctor diagnosed me with a genetic predisposition to "create" highly elevated levels of cholesterol, which he informed me would one day lead to a serious case of cardiovascular disease.
My whole life I have been trail running, mountain biking, swimming and hiking my heart into shape, and keely so since my 20's, knowing that my years were numbered and that one day my arteries would continue to narrow until the plaque became so thick I would need to take high doses of cholesterol drugs to stave off the inevitable; surgery and possible premature death. 
For the past eight years I have been taking high blood pressure medicine, eating many varieties of fish (mostly salmon), whole grains, poultry, countless  fruits and vegetables... often washed down with a glass of red wine and a few cubes of dark chocolate. Of course there were times where I gulfed down a burger on the sly, savored a thick slice of cheescake and munched to the bottom, a bag of chips... often washing them down with a salty beer or two; often wispering to myself that "... a guys gotta live...".
A few years back my cardiologist told me that I would need to go on cholesterol reducing medication, and that even though I felt I was doing almost all the right things, resulting in a strong heart, being in great physical condition, I could not exercise or eat my way into a - change in my genetics; "punto! "(period).   
After feeling more symptoms, I grabbed my phone, pulled up safari and googled the warning signs of a heart attack, just to be sure, realizing I had almost all of the list published by the Mayo & John Hopkins, this was followed by me calling out to my 16 year old son Aidan telling him that I think I was having a heart attack. Now, don't judge me on this one, as I know it was not wise, nor the safe decision to make... but I chose to drive to the emergency room at a hospital about 20 mintues away, as I knew that the ambulance would take much longer to find my house, as it is perched on the side of a canyon, off a windy and confusing maze of roads twisting through the mountains. On the drive to the hospital, many dark thoughts entered my mind, from dying to suffering a stroke, to leaving my children and other loved ones behind.
Upon arrival, I walked into the emergency room and told them that I was having a heart attack... I have to say, the quick and highly professional response at the hospital, Clinica Alemana, that I drove to, saved my life. 
Within minutes, I was stripped, cleaned, punctured & prepped and was stretchered into an ambulance. Shortly after driving away, I felt myself slipping and was stirred back to reality by the placement of two adhesive pads being afixed to my chest, which I later learned was to shock my heart if it stopped beating. 
Upon arriving at the main clinic, I was rushed into a prepped operating room with a highly talented surgeon and his team ready to save my life.
After being given a local anesthesia that ran up my right arm, the doctor quickly slipped a catheter through a puncture hole in my artery; finding that my artery was 100% blocked, he told me to hang on and that he was going to open it up.  As he cleared the plaque, he told me that I would feel a rush of blood into my heart and that I might get light headed... his last words were like a far away echo, as I felt myself slipping, being stirred by voices screaming at me to cough. After struggling three times, I managed to cough and upon doing so, the voices became louder until I found myself back on the operating table, staring at a plastic covered metal box looming over me, making strange sounds.
Hours later I was tethered by cords, clips and bed railings within the intensive care unit, unable to get up for two days.  Each day the surgeon or cardiologist stopped by to talk with me about a follow up surgery they wanted me to have done, on my other two arteries leading to my heart, as they were 80% & 90% blocked.  On the third day in the hospital, I had another angioplasty surgery... resulting in a total of three stents being placed in my veins, in order to allow the blood to start flowing into my heart.
The images of my blocked arteries, and the post clearing and stenting of them, with a rush of blood filling a web of vessles surrounding my heart, has been etched into my brain; simultaneosly terrifying and strangely beautiful. 
As I write this, I am at home, laying in my bed, processing the reality of the fragility of my life and how fortunate I am to have escaped death or severe damage to my heart tissue; leaving me with only a freckle sized blot of tissue that dyed as it was starved of oxygen.
I now find myself swimming and sometimes drowning in a pool of emotions -- feeling thankful, fortunate, scared, nervous, elated, and damn lucky to have the chance to live, to continue to raise my two boys and of course myself, as I feel the necessity of the wisdom of an aged mind needing to care for a body that feels increasingly physically fragile.
I also feel alone and emotinally fragile, realizing that a lifetime of forging a sense of fierce independence is in need of support and empathy from a "tribe" of survivors; I welcome and appreciate any thoughts, advice or words that will help me piece myself back together. 
 
5 Comments
  • Pamelaj831
    Pamelaj831,
    TJC I just read your post and i appreciate every word you wrote. I wish you good health, and I thank you for sharing. 2016 was a very tough year that brought a lot of stress and we know stress isn't good. I lost my Dad on April 1, 2016 he had been on dialysis and had heart failure he had a pacemaker. The day he passed he didn't feel like going to dialysis he went to the ER after test they wanted to keep him he didn't stay and dialysis talked him into coming well I think that was far to much on him. My Dads friend brought him home and said he was having trouble getting up his last step as they went in the door he said "I'm falling" he fell his friend got my son which lives close, bless my sons heart he tried for a very long time with no luck. Dad died of cardiac arrest. I'm not sure what my son has buried in his mind and I worry. My Dad was suffering with the inability to move much and trouble breathing topped with being drained from dialysis treatments. I was having funny feelings in my chest and my doctor did an echo, holter monitor, egg and stress test and saw a cardiologist, I'm lucky my test were fine I am on blood pressure medicine now. I think I was very stressed with losing Dad and in addition my sister has been very bad with estate issues. Life is short I feel we have to try our best to keep going, not sure about tomorrow but I made it today, I think your a fighter and we have to be so be strong...wishing you the best.
  • AHA/ASA Sarah Ismail
    AHA/ASA Sarah Ismail,
    Thank you TJC and Pamelaj831 for sharing your stories on here. Please stay strong and try to find little moments of peace and happiness in your day to day lives. Pamelaj831, I think it was a great idea to get checked with all the stress that you have been going through and I am really happy that there was nothing serious going on. I encourage you to keep discussing within different forums on the support network and ask specific questions that others may help you with. Best, Sarah
  • tsutsin
    tsutsin,
    I'm right there with you, TJC. This resonates deeply with me. "I now find myself swimming and sometimes drowning in a pool of emotions -- feeling thankful, fortunate, scared, nervous, elated, and damn lucky to have the chance to live, to continue to raise my two boys and of course myself, as I feel the necessity of the wisdom of an aged mind needing to care for a body that feels increasingly physically fragile. I also feel alone and emotinally fragile, realizing that a lifetime of forging a sense of fierce independence is in need of support and empathy from a "tribe" of survivors" Send me a private message if you want to talk more after reading my survival story.
  • shirleymom
    shirleymom,
    I had a massive heart attack in 2004, and received 3 emergency stents that day. Six weeks later I had open heart surgery and they installed six bypasses. That was 13 years ago and I feel great. Yes, I went through all the fear, emotions, etc., but I have come out doing just fine. I wanted to let you know that you will be ok. Keep doing what your doctor says and listen to your inner voice. You will find your limits and learn to be ok with them. Trust yourself and good luck to you! Spend time with your son.
  • 2Bhearty
    2Bhearty,
    You have been through so much, i cant imagine...i can totally understand the last lines of your story the fierce sense of independance, empathy, fragility, tribe of friends that have come through; that is me after 18months fighting AFIB that hasnt been able to be treated through procedures, medications and just underwent serious heart surgery to hopefully correct the probem, if this doesnt work, i dont know what is next, scares me to even imagine....no one understands....they have spouses, grown children, parents, i have me.,,,it is a lonely place to be when everything falls on you and you have to depend on others...you truly find out who your friends are...family not so much in my case,,,i hope you get on track and get better soon, i am trying been a physical and mental struggle for me...
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