I nearly died from Heart Disease
But I beat it
In 2016, I nearly died. I found out that I had heart disease. I had a heart attack. Later in the year, I had a quadruple heart bypass.
After going through all of that, I found turned my health around. I reversed my heart disease. I even reversed my diabetes!
You can beat Heart Disease too!
In order to beat heart disease, I did a lot of research, and I applied what I learned. You can beat heart disease too, and I can help you do it.
To get started, read about my journey toward beating heart disease.
June 2016 was a real wake-up call!
At the age of 55, my father died from a heart attack. I always worried that I might not make it past 55 ourselves, because of the genes that I inherited from my father.
In 2016, I was 54 years old, and the thought about my possible demise was always at the back of my head. Not a constant worry, rather just something that was in my mind, below the surface.
Over the years proceeding 2016, I started taking better care of my health. Although I never went in for a real panel of heart tests, I had tests of my blood and other things that gave my doctors a general idea of how my heart health was. I was active, able to exercise with no problems, etc. My doctors always said that it appeared that my heart was in good shape.
First Indication of Heart Disease
During the last week of June 2016, on the evening of June 21, I woke up at about 1 am, I had chest pain. I felt pretty certain that I was experiencing indigestion, heartburn. After sitting in my chair in the bedroom for about 15 minutes, I then went to my office (I work at home, with an office that adjoins the bedroom) for about an hour. I felt I might as well do some work if I could not sleep! I tend to be a bit of a workaholic. After about an hour of working (lightly), my chest felt fine, and I went back to bed.
Next morning, I woke up feeling just fine, no problems at all. I elected not to mention the problem to my wife, no reason to worry her because it was just heartburn after all.
Second Indication of a Problem
On the evening of Thursday, June 23, I woke up again, as I recall it was at about the same time, 1 am or so. This time the chest pain was a bit more severe, but I still thought it was likely to be heartburn. I don’t recall, either I woke up my wife, or she woke up on her own. She asked me what was wrong, I told her I was having some heartburn. No need to make her worry, right? 😉
Although the pain was a little more severe, the amount of time was shorter, and I was back in bed and asleep in 30 minutes or less.
The Next Morning
On Friday morning, my wife told me she had some errands planned for the day. I asked her:
Do you think you can cancel?
Why? she said.
I think I should go visit my doctor and find out what this chest pain is about? It is my second time this week.
When I got in to see the doctor, he listened as I explained what was going on, and he then set up an EKG machine in his office to do a quick test on my heart. After he saw it, he said that he could see that there was something going on with my heart and I should go check in to the hospital.
Being the smart guy that I am, I said that it was not necessary to go into the hospital, but agreed to have some blood tests and a 2D Echocardiogram test the next morning.
I went home after seeing the doctor and felt just fine for the rest of the day!
Confirmation: It was a heart attack
On Saturday morning, June 23, I had to go to the clinic for blood tests and a 2D Echo Cardiogram test. I really did not think that there were any major problems, but there was something going on with my heart, so I thought I better check it out and see what it was.
Bright and Early
We showed up at the lab at 6 am. Since I needed to be fasting for the blood tests, I wanted to take care of it first thing when the laboratory opened for business. I got my blood was drawn (which is always difficult, my veins like to hide!), and gave a urine sample. It was all fairly simple, except finding my vein for the blood sample!
Next, I was going to go for the 2D Echo but found out that the heart clinic did not open until 8 am, so they told us to go have some breakfast and return at 8, which we did. The 2D echo test took maybe 30 to 45 minutes or so, and we were ready to head out the door. Or so we thought!
While my wife was waiting for me to finish the 2D Echo, a lab technician came to the heart clinic and told my wife that she should go to the lab ASAP, there was an emergency. When she went there, they gave her the blood test papers and told her to go straight to the doctor because he needed to see the results. All of my tests came back normal, except for one: Troponin I. So, as soon as my 2D Echo was completed, we rushed up to the doctor’s office and he saw us immediately.
When he looked at the Troponin I results, he said: “Yep, you had a heart attack.” Troponin I is an enzyme from the heart muscle. If you have any troponin I in your bloodstream it indicates that you have suffered a heart attack recently. I had a relatively small amount of troponin in my blood, but any at all indicates a heart attack.
My Doctor’s Advice about my Heart Disease
My doctor said that I should go straight to the hospital. I told him that it was the weekend, and I didn’t think they could do much for me, because I felt great. As I have mentioned, I am very smart, and I am sure I know more than my doctors do! LOL. My doctor went back and forth with me and I told him that I live very near the 911 Emergency Center and would call 911 immediately if I had any further chest pain. He agreed but told me that I was acting against his advice.
For the rest of the day on Saturday, I felt fine. Sunday morning I felt fine. Just after lunch on Sunday, though, I had massive chest pain compared to my previous events the week before. The pain radiated from my chest to my neck and both arms. It continued for a few minutes and I knew it was time to go to the hospital.
Being the intelligent guy that I am, though, I decided that I did not need to call 911, instead, I told my daughter to call a taxi and the taxi took us to the hospital. OK, it worked out, but I know that I should have just called 911, and I will do that next time, if, God Forbid, that next time ever comes.
Checked in to Davao Doctor’s Hospital
So, on Sunday, June 26, I was taken (by taxi, as I pointed out in my last article) to Davao Doctor’s Hospital. I had just suffered a heart attack!
First stop was the Emergency Room. My wife, Feyma came with me to the hospital, and a friend met us there in case he could assist. In the emergency room, they asked about my symptoms, gave me some medication to relax my heart, and generally got me stabilized. After an hour or so, they took me to the Cardiac ICU, where they take special care of heart patients.
Later that day, my doctor, Dr. Rustia, came and saw me. He didn’t say “I told you so” even though he advised me to go to the hospital on Saturday, but I declined to do so. Later, a cardiologist came to see me, his name was Dr. Barcinas. Dr. Barcinas was a referral by Dr. Rustia.
As I recall, I stayed in the Cardiac ICU for 3 days, but perhaps it was 4. I didn’t really like it in there much. My family was not supposed to visit at all, but I was able to make special arrangements to allow a limited number of visitors. Mostly, my wife stayed there with me, and one of my sons and daughters came pretty regularly. I also had a couple of very close friends who would visit daily. Having family and friends around me is important to me because I feel it helps me get better. I know it cheers me up a lot.
Moving to my room
After a few days in the ICU, I was moved to a regular room in the cardiac ward. Being in a regular room was a bit more comfortable, although what I really wanted was to go home.
I stayed in my room for 2 to 3 days, and on Friday, July 1, I was able to go home. Going home was important to me, I always feel that I can relax a lot more and recuperate at home rather than being uncomfortable in a hospital room.
When I visited the cardiologist and my internist, I decided to treat my heart condition by using medication instead of any type of invasive procedure. My budget was fairly limited at that time, so I needed to keep the costs low. I started taking a blood thinner, a statin, and some additional blood pressure medications, to keep my blood pressure very low.
Cost of my 6 days stay in the hospital
So, I entered the hospital on Sunday and was released on Friday. Sunday I spent time in the Emergency Room, then the rest of the day on Sunday, and going up until, I believe, Wednesday, I was in the ICU where I had special monitoring. Next, I was transferred to a private room in the hospital where I stayed for about 3 days.
All in all, the hospital bill, which included all doctors, Emergency Room, ICU, regular room, medications… everything… came up to about P100,000, which is a little over $2,000. That is not bad compared to similar treatment in the USA.
After going home
After spending nearly a week in the hospital after my heart attack, I was sent home.
My doctors advised me how I should start eating (I later learned that what they advised was completely wrong). They advised me on what types of exercise I should do when I was able. They advised me, more or less, how I could avoid further heart problems, and hoped I would not need stents placed into my arteries or the ultimate intervention – a heart bypass.
I started exercising
After a week or 10 days of healing and rest at home, I decided to start walking for exercise. My wife was particularly worried about me doing any kind of exercise, though, she was sure I would have another heart attack, and I might die while exercising.
Because of her fear, my wife wanted to walk with me daily, and that was fine.
My first walk was only about 100 feet up the street and back home. I was worn out, tired. But, I implemented my “getting better plan”. The next day, I walked about 150 feet up the road, and back. Each day I increased my walking distance by about 50%, and although it was tough, I did it.
Within a couple of weeks, I was walking all the way around the block. Then, taking two trips around the block, then three, four, and so on. Eventually, I walked miles, not blocks.
I was feeling great, until…
September came – Heart Disease returned
During the first week in September, my wife and I went out for our daily walk. After only about 500 feet of walking, I could hardly breathe. We stopped for a rest and then went right back home. Shortness of breath is a sign of heart disease. I knew I was in trouble again.
We made an immediate appointment with my doctor, and he referred me to a cardiologist. I saw him within a few days. During this time, I stopped walking for exercise.
Tests and more tests
During this time, I had so many tests. The biggest of all of the tests, though, in terms of the information gathered, was having an angiogram.
What is an angiogram?
An angiogram is done through X-ray. It is considered to be the Gold-standard for finding blockages in your arteries. An iodine dye is injected into your artery, and the X-Ray can then detect if there are blockages in the arteries, how bad the blockage is, and where the blockages are located. The angiogram helps the doctor determine what the best treatment will be for your heart disease.
And my angiogram was not good
While my doctor was doing the angiogram, I asked him, “how does it look in there?” I did not think I had a significant blockage. The doctor said, “I’ll talk to you after we are done.”
After the angiogram was finished, only about 15 minutes, I asked the doctor again. His response was “Is your wife here?” When he said that, I knew that it could not be good news. He got my wife in the waiting room, and then he told me.
You have a lot of blockage in your arteries. Three arteries are blocked 95%. One is blocked 99%. You should not be alive right now. There is only one thing that saved you. You have a birth defect that saved your life. You have an extra artery that you are not supposed to have.
I was floored. It was scary.
I asked the doctor: “Does that mean that I need to have stents placed in the arteries?
His response was even scarier.
There is no stent that can save your life. You need to have a quadruple heart bypass operation. I was very scared.
Preparing for Heart Disease surgery
For about a month after the angiogram, I was preparing (mentally and physically) to have heart surgery. I had to go through a lot of things that the insurance required. I also had to wrap my mind around the position that I was in.
Every person that I talked to about this told me the same thing: “Just have a positive attitude, you’re going to be fine!”
My response was: “Yes, I will be fine, I am not worried about it.” However, in my mind, I was saying: “I won’t live through this, I’m going to try, but I am pretty sure I am going to die.”
In November 2017 I faced death from Heart Disease
On November 8, 2016, I checked into the hospital. My surgery was scheduled for November 10. I had to go in a little early for more tests, and so they could teach me what to expect, and how to recover after the surgery was done.
On the morning of November 10, when they took me to the surgical theater, I said goodbye to my wife and kids. I thought I’d never see them again, but I told them that we’d see each other in a few hours.
The surgery was supposed to be 4 to 6 hours.
I was in the Surgical Theater
Just a few minutes after I was wheeled into the surgical room, I met the anesthesiologist. Turned out that he was the nephew of a friend of mine. He told me that he would be putting me to sleep, and before I could say anything, I was out.
About a year and a half later, I learned that I died during heart surgery, and it was very hard to revive me. I guess that my feeling that I was going to die was true. I just did not realize that I would also be revived.
They did revive me, and they harvested veins from my legs and replaced my arteries near my heart with those veins.
I have a video of my heart during the surgery. If you are squeamish about watching things like this, don’t watch the video below.
Heart Surgery Video
The content below may be considered too graphic for some people. If you are squeamish about seeing blood or surgery in progress you should skip this post/video.
Video of my heart operation
I debated for some time about sharing this video, but I decided to do it. As I mentioned above, do not watch this if you are not comfortable with this type of content. You can see my heart, and see it beating in the video.
When I had open heart surgery in November 2016, my surgeon asked me if I wanted him to make a video of the operation for me. I was surprised by the question, but I said yes, I thought it would be interesting to see what happened.
Another surprise was that my surgeon told me that he had never done this for any other patient, I was the first (and I believe the last) patient that he made this offer to. I am not sure why he offered to do it.
Don’t allow yourself to get into this kind of situation! You don’t want this, it is not fun! I was in surgery for nearly 12 hours. Before the surgery, I almost died! My doctors said my heart condition was caused by my lifestyle and 25 years of diabetes. Thankfully I have turned both of those things around, and now I feel I have many more years of life ahead of me!
I went home
A few days after having heart surgery, I went home. I had to take it easy for a while. A lot of bedrest. But, after a week or so, I started walking around and trying to heal myself. I was happy to be alive.
More tests in late December 2016 – It was good news
In late December I had to go in for some medical tests. Since I had my heart bypass surgery in November 2016, this is a very normal thing for me. It seemed I am visiting doctors or having tests done every week, sometimes multiple times per week. Hopefully, that will slow down soon, and I think it will.
Well, last time I saw my cardiologist, about 2 weeks ago, he told me to go to the lab and have a 2D Echo Cardiogram done. That is a test that is kind of like an ultrasound of your heart. I am only a layman, and I don’t know everything about the test, but I know that it tests the functionality of your heart, makes sure that it is strong, etc.
Since I had a heart attack in June 2016, there are 7 times that I have had a 2D Echo test! It is getting old!
It always seems like the part of the test that the doctors seem to watch closely is the EF% or the Ejection Fraction. My understanding is that the Ejection Fraction measures what percentage of the blood in your heart is ejected when the heart contracts. I have been told that a normal range is 55% to 70% or so.
In the past, my EF has always been in the mid-40s, which is too low! It showed that my heart was not functioning well enough!
Well, this past week, when I had my latest 2D Echo, my EJ% was up to 68%, which is great! I am very excited and happy about that.
I have to go see my cardiologist this week and will get his full review of the test at that time, but for now, I am celebrating!
It felt good to see my health on the upswing!
I knew that the test described above was good, but I had not talked to a doctor about it yet, and I was looking forward to getting a more trained opinion than my own.
A few days later, I had an appointment with my cardiologist. When I walked into his office he looked up at me and said: “I don’t ever want to see you again!”. Hmm… I was not sure if this was good or bad. Had I done something to offend him? Well, he was just (kind of) joking, and he was extremely happy with the results of that 2D Echo! Ht told me that this would be our last appointment together and he did not need to see me anymore. He was releasing me back to my Internist, for regular medical care.
Just 3 months after having a quadruple bypass and my cardiologist says that my heart is healthy again! I was ecstatic. That was how I felt when I saw that 2D Echo result previously, but it sure was nice to hear a doctor confirming my thoughts about it!
The reason why the doctor said he did not want to ever see me again was that if I had to go back and see him again in the future, that would mean that I was having a heart problem again. Like him, I hope to never go back and see him again! Nothing would make me happier!
That is how things went with my heart disease. Now, let’s look at the risk factors for heart disease, and where I stand in regard to each risk factor.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Since having a heart attack in June 2016, and a Quadruple Bypass in November 2016, I have studied pretty persistently about the risk factors for heart disease. Of course, I want to know what areas I need to work on to minimize further heart disease so that I won’t end up on the operating table again, or worse, in the ground.
So based on my research, and my discussions with my doctors, here is a list of the risk factors for heart disease:
- Age – the older you get, the more the risk.
- Tobacco – If you smoke or chew tobacco, you are at risk!
- High Blood Pressure – Your heart has to work hard if your blood pressure is high!
- Hi Cholesterol and Triglycerides – If your blood lipids are high, it might cause a plaque buildup in your arteries.
- Diabetes – those who are diabetic are prone to have heart disease. The more you control your diabetes, the better chance of avoiding heart problems.
- Family History – If heart disease runs in your family, there is an increased chance that you will develop heart disease.
- Obesity – the heavier you are, the more chance of heart disease.
- Stress – If you lead a stressful lifestyle, it is hard on your heart and you increase your risk of heart disease.
- Illegal Drug Use – If you are a drug user, your chance of heart disease increases.
So, what risk factors are problems for you? Look, be honest, and work on those areas that are potential problems! Take it from me, a guy who went from thinking his heart was not a problem to having a heart attack and bypass surgery! Believe me, if you can prevent it from happening to you, you are way ahead of the game!
Yesterday, I published a list of Risk Factors for Heart Disease. I had a heart attack last year, and subsequently had a heart attack, so obviously I have a risk of further heart problems. I am trying very hard to lower my risk factors, improve my health, and avoid any further heart problems.
Some of the Risk Factors don’t Impact Me
So, let’s look at a list of risk factors that really don’t impact me.
- High Cholesterol and Triglycerides
- Illegal Drug Use
Why don’t these risk factors matter to me?
Well, I would not say they don’t matter, but what I would say is that they are not a risk for me or not much of a risk. This is my layman’s opinion, of course, but let’s see why I feel they are not impactful to me.
Tobacco is a risk factor for heart disease
I have never been a smoker. Oh, when I was a kid there were like maybe two times when I took a puff of a cigarette, but I did not like it. Just a single puff like once or maybe twice. I just don’t believe that one or two puffs of a cigarette some 45 or more years ago would have a negative impact on my health. I am so glad that I never was a smoker. Who needs it?
High Cholesterol and Triglycerides is a risk factor for heart disease
I listed this on me “don’t impact me” list, although I was hesitant to do so. Fact is that my Cholesterol and Triglycerides have always been low. They have been at the lowest end of the “normal” range on every blood test that I have ever had. Cholesterol and Triglycerides have never been a problem for me.
So, why did I hesitate to include it as a personal risk factor? Well, my father had a heart attack at age 55 (same age that I am now) and he died in an instant. His cholesterol and triglycerides were always very high. Because of this, I have a family history of high cholesterol and triglycerides. Although I have never had the problem, I do feel that it is something I need to keep an eye on.
Today, though, I do not feel that this is a personal risk factor for me. I hope to keep it that way!
Illegal Drug Use is a risk factor for heart disease
I have never been a drug user. One time, when I was in college, I did try marijuana (I did inhale). But, I never felt that it was something that was really that great or something I desired, so I never used it again. When I did try it, it was only a few puffs at most.
I have never used or even tried any other type of illicit drug. I have only used prescription drugs that were given to me by a doctor.
Because of these things, I do not believe that I have any heart disease risk from Illegal or Illicit Drugs.
Heart Risk Factors that I can’t control
There are some heart disease risk factors that affect every one of us, no matter how healthy we are. How many times have you heard of physically fit athletes who died from a heart attack? It happens regularly. For people who are in good condition like that, they were probably taken due to risk factors that were beyond their control.
Let’s look at a list of heart disease risk factors which impact me, but are beyond my control:
- Family History
It is a short list, but these are things that do impact me in one way or another. Unfortunately, they are also things that I cannot directly change, no matter what I do.
Getting older means that our risk of heart disease is growing.
There is a famous quote, although I don’t know who said it:
Old age is better than the alternative.
I guess the only way to avoid the risks from old age is to die young! I would prefer to take the risk and live a longer life!
While heart disease is a risk factor that grows as we age, we can do things to minimize the risk. Be healthy. Eat right. Exercise. Take care of the other risk factors that we can control to minimize the risks from age.
It is something which I can’t control, and hope that I get much older than I am now… but I am taking action on other risk factors in order to minimize the risk.
We don’t get to choose who are families is, or what kind of medical problems those people had!
Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of heart disease in my family. There is also a lot of history of strokes in the family. I had a stroke in 2001, and a heart attack in 2016. I am so happy that I survived both events! After my stroke, I took steps to improve my health and I have avoided any additional strokes, thankfully. Having head a heart attack last year, I am addressing the things in my life that I can to avoid a repeat of that problem too!
It is a good idea for you if you have not yet experienced heart problems, to look at your family history, find out what kind of health problems your family members have experienced. Once you know what the risks were in your family, you know what areas to concentrate on to avoid yourself!
We all get sick, we all have health problems. Your family history has a big impact on what you might experience, but you can act early and take steps to avoid those problems.
I should have done that myself, but I did not! Perhaps you still have time!
In March 2017, I reversed my diabetes, so it is no longer a risk factor for me. But, here is my pre-healing story in regards to diabetes.
I had diabetes for about 25 years, almost 26 years now. When I first was diagnosed with diabetes, I tried to control it, but no matter how hard I tried, I was not successful in gaining control over the disease.
After attempting unsuccessfully to control diabetes, I just gave up. I did nothing about it at all, I just let my blood sugar go high and it was not a concern to me. That was a stupid thing to do, but it is also a common thing among diabetics, unfortunately.
In 2014, I was in the hospital because of a severe infection that I got from a bug bite. During this time, I had a new doctor, and I like him. He had a good bedside manner and talked to me in a way that was not demeaning. He talked to me about diabetes and getting it under control. I listened to him and I took action.
In 2014, I gained fair control over diabetes, much better than being totally out of control as it had been for 20 years or more. As 2014 ended, though, I found it harder and harder to control diabetes.
During 2014, my doctor had been urging me to start using insulin. He felt that I had been diabetic for so long that my body was no longer producing any insulin or a very low level at most. I avoided this, I did not want to inject myself with insulin, and I wanted to use diet and exercise to control diabetes.
In early 2015, I could see that my use of diet and exercise alone was not successful in controlling diabetes to the level needed. So, in March 2015, I started using insulin, based on the recommendation of my doctor. It was great, my diabetes was in much better control, but there was one problem. I was gaining weight. In 2016, though, I took action that impacted my diabetes, use of insulin and control of the disease.
I am no longer obese if I look at my BMI. I am still overweight, but my weight should no longer be the cause of further heart disease.
What are my personal Risk Factors?
- High Blood Pressure
High Blood Pressure
My blood pressure is usually good and requires no medication. But, I have to keep an eye on it because sometimes it will flare up, and I will need to use medication for a short time.
I have been hypertensive (had high blood pressure) for many years. My blood pressure is in good control using medication. I currently take 3 different medications to control my blood pressure. It is my goal to minimize the number of medications needed and the amount of each medication. I believe that as I work on this, I can minimize the use of medication and control the blood pressure by losing weight, exercise, and other lifestyle changes.
Stress affects all of us. I have to work to keep my temper down, control my emotions, and avoid stress.
I feel good about having removed so many risk factors for heart disease. But, I still have to be vigilant.
Do you have heart disease, or think you might?
If you have heart disease, or if you think you might take action! You don’t want to end up as I did. I am happy to be alive, you might not be as lucky as I am.
They say that the first sign of heart disease for many people is a heart attack. A large number of people die when they have their first heart attack. My Dad did. I did not do anything after my father’s death. I should have.
It is not too late for you. If you are reading this that means you are still alive. Don’t let yourself have a heart attack, you can prevent it.