By Michael Capalbo
On April 24, 2020 I had a massive Heart Attack. I had a one-hundred percent blockage of the Left Main Artery otherwise known as ‘The Widow Maker”. Basically, I died.
Here is my story and how I became a heart survivor.
I was at work at Walgreens in Litchfield where I was the Assistant Manager. I felt an incredible burning sensation in my chest from shoulder to shoulder. I went in the back to sit down and texted my boss to come back. She immediately went and got the pharmacist, who proceeded to put an aspirin in my mouth and called 911. I Remember sitting up in the ambulance outside of my store. I knew I was sick, but had no idea I was about to “die”. The next thing I remember I was in the ICU two days later.
Having lost two days, I set out to piece together what happened during that time. I brought a tray of cookies to my job and also to the Litchfield Ambulance Company to thank them for saving my life. This is where it gets powerful! I knocked on the door and introduced myself. The twentysomething year old EMT that answered the door said, ”Oh my gosh Mike, it is you! I cannot believe you are standing here in front of me!” He proceeded to tell me that five minutes into the ride I flat lined and they had to pull over to start my heart with an AED (automated external defibrillator). They transported me to a hospital for a very brief time, and then I was transported to another hospital. He then embraced me, and we shared a cry. It was quite powerful that this total stranger, a trained professional, was brought to tears.
Now, on to where I am today.
My life story changed for the better on that day in April. Once I was home, and done lying in the hospital pondering how to recover, I instantly dedicated myself to living a long healthy life. Prior to that day, I was downright ignorant and arrogant when it came to my health. I lived on pizza, wings, cheeseburgers, and sweets. I would eat a bag of cookies every other day. If those things were not bad enough, I smoked menthol cigarettes and never exercised. This is the ignorant and arrogant part; I ignored all the symptoms I was having. I ignored the chest pains, calling them indigestion. Ignored the arm tingles and eye fogging, saying it will go away I am fine. Maybe the worst of all, I ignored the long scary family history. My father died of a heart attack. His father, my grandfather died of a heart attack before I was born and my brother who is now sixty-four, had a heart attack at the exact same age of fifty-two as I was when I had mine. Ironically three months after mine my sixty-two-year-old sister had one as well.
I needed a complete reboot and I set out to make it happen. My entire life has changed. I have not had any red meat or saturated fats since my heart attack. I eat chicken and fish, salads and most fruits and vegetables. I don’t eat anything white. No white bread, rice, or pasta. Everything is grain or vegetable. I have stopped drinking alcohol completely. I was never a big drinker, but I did drink socially. I now drink water or decaf tea. Most importantly I have not had a single drag of a cigarette. The other phase of my new life is exercise. I now walk/hike four to five miles, four to six times a week. I have recently been given the go ahead to lift light weights and am going to the gym six days a week. It is not a diet and a workout it is a lifestyle. My new motto is ‘I Slay All Day!”. I recently had blood work done for my yearly physical. It was proof in black and white that my dedication and discipline has been worth every crumb and every step. In five short months the changes were drastic. To name a few, my cholesterol went from 195 to 105, my triglycerides went from 265 to 80 (wow), and my A1C went from 6.1 to 5.7. My doctor looked at me, smiled and said, “you clearly have been working diligently.”
My new mission is to not only be healthy, but to share my story, so others can learn and benefit from my experience. I tell my story to anyone who will listen. If they do not need to hear it maybe they know someone who does, and they will share it with them. I tell them, do not be me, be better than me, meaning do NOT wait to die before you worry about your body.
Some say they are proud of how hard I am working, but to me it is not hard work. If you are dedicated and disciplined the work is easy. The big question I get is how to stay so motivated to continue on this path after years of being carefree and undisciplined, and the answer is so simple. I was six weeks away from not seeing my daughter, Jac graduate High School. My rock. My motivation. The reason why I get my head off the pillow in the morning. My beautiful, smart, amazing daughter. Now I will be able to be there on her wedding day to walk down the aisle.
I have so much to be thankful for this holiday season. I am thankful for the people who recognized the symptoms and called 9-1-1. For the man in the ambulance who knew the protocols to get my heart beating again. I’m thankful for the doctors who knew just what to do to give me a second chance. I’m thankful for the work of the American Heart Association who support the research and education to help us all live heart healthy lives. Lastly, I’m thankful for my daughter who is my motivation, and it is beyond powerful.
It’s a miracle that I am alive and that I am able to enjoy the holiday season with my family. Thank you for reading my story and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season too!