I’m Never Giving Up…Joe’s Story

My story begins in 2011. I had just gone through a divorce and had gotten into great shape or as I called it, dating shape. I was house sitting for friends and had run three miles on the treadmill pushing myself quite hard. As I finished I noticed I wasn’t feeling well and decided to rest a little before going to meet a friend before lunch. My friends whom I was house sitting for had come home and they said I didn’t look that good but I told them I was fine. I met my friend for lunch and without warning I became very nauseous and light headed. I went to the men’s room and found myself laying on the floor with my friend beating on the door asking if I was alright. I got up and asked her to take me to my sisters’ who is a nurse. I assumed I just had some kind of bug.

I did not have any idea at the time I was having a heart attack.

My sister, like me, assumed it was some kind of bug. Over the next two days I wasn’t getting better and finally one night I couldn’t sleep because I felt like an elephant was on my chest. I told my sister and she rushed me to the emergency room (the AHA recommends you call 911 if you suspect a heart attack). When they put me on an EKG-  everyone broke into action and behold I was having a heart attack. They stabilized me and sent me to another hospital where the heart surgeons were waiting for me. They were able to put a stent in my artery and saved my life.

I was lucky the damage to my heart was minimal and reversible. I was lucky that I had gotten into really good shape and I was able to recover quickly. I went to cardiac rehab and learned a lot about diet and exercise and was able to run a 5k three months after the procedure. In the year that followed I amended my diet to heart healthy, I continued with my cardio and weight training and went back to school to get certified as a personal trainer. I took all the medication as prescribed and went to all my doctors’ appointments religiously. My stress test always came back perfect.

But then in 2015 things changed and so did my life forever. On a Friday in October I went for a stress test at my Cardiologist and passed easy. They were amazed how great a shape I was in and said I was doing great. I noticed for the couple weeks before that I had felt I was just a little fatigued but I had been working a lot with my construction business and my personal training at the gym and thought nothing about it.

On the following Sunday I had a great workout and was feeling great. I went to my ex’s house to walk our dog that we had joint custody of. I was going to take him up to the reservoir woods so that he could run free once again fate had other plans. Suddenly, as I was standing in her driveway, I felt intense pain running down my arm and shoulder and I clutched my chest, realizing that I was having a heart attack. My ex-wife rushed me to the emergency room where they put me on an EKG and again, everyone jumped into action. I was in the middle of a massive heart attack. They gave me numerous nitro pills to try to stabilize me and I kind of had an idea I was in rough shape. But I had no idea how bad it really was. At the hospital they discovered I had not one, not two, but THREE, 100 percent blockages in my LAD also known as the widow maker. They attempted to put stents in , but as I found out later that didn’t work.

I remember waking up Monday morning thinking everything was all done and I was going to be fine in a few weeks. I called my work partner and the gym that I was going to be out for a couple of weeks but that I was fine and everything was good. Then the doctors gave me the bad news, one of the stents half opened and wasn’t going to work and that they couldn’t do anything about it and they were going to try to do everything they can to figure out what was next.

I remember it like it was yesterday, it was Tuesday night and most of my family was in the room when the heart surgeon walked into the room with four other doctors and began to tell me that they were going to do open heart surgery or a double bypass on me. The doctors told me it was going to be very complicated because of where the stent had half opened and that they wanted to wait until my heart healed before they attempted the open heart surgery. They feared my heart would not survive the surgery. As they were telling me this I remember looking over at my sisters and daughters as the intense pain started radiating from my shoulder and arm and I remember telling the nurse that I was having a heart attack. The EKG was off the charts and as they were rushing me to surgery looking at the crash cart next to me and listening to the panic in the doctors voice I realized I probably wasn’t going to make it.

How grateful I was to wake up the next day in ICU, in pain but alive. I remember as soon as I was able to talk, I thanked the doctor for saving my life and he told me it wasn’t him, but me and someone else had saved my life.  I definitely understood.

Later I had learned that I had died and they were able to bring me back. The doctors called me a miracle and said there was no way I should have survived. I had quite a lot of damage to my heart but they said that because I was in such great shape I would be ok. Once again I pushed myself to get back into shape and within a year I was back doing everything I was before, stronger than ever.

But it doesn’t end there.

I started having a cough but thought nothing of it. It continuously got worse and then I couldn’t get out of bed. I went to the hospital where they admitted me for pneumonia. I was treated over four days and they sent me home. Within two months I had pneumonia again and then within a month again. The doctors finally realized I had an infection that had done a great deal of damage to my heart. My ejection fraction had went from 35 and climbing to 22 and dropping. They immediately put a defibrillator in knowing that if I had a heart attack I wouldn’t survive and they told me that I was in congestive heart failure.

Now I’m on a lot of medication knowing that at some point I may have to have a heart transplant. I am determined to live a full life and to keep working out. I keep fooling the doctors with what I’m capable of doing and I’m going to keep fooling them as long as I can.

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