Thursday, January 12, 2012

Heart Attack - Final Word

This will be the last post devoted exclusively to my ticker. It's been a little over two weeks since I had an heart attack and I've started riding my trikes again with no limitations. 

It's time to move on and start blogging about cycling stuff. Before I do I want to share the results of what happened to me on Christmas day 2011 with the hope that others may benefit and learn from my experience. (The details of the day I had my heart attack are posted here Heart Attack and a short follow up here Bored and Drugged.)

It is only natural that we want to find a reason why someone takes a fall and to be assured that the reason does not pertain to us and that we will live a long unencumbered life. Sorry to disappoint but there was no outstanding risk factor prior to my heart attack that raised a red flag. Over the years I have avoided the risk factors associated with heart disease. I exercise regularly, my weight is under control, good diet, no family history of heart disease and blood pressure is good. Even though I have now been told that there is some history of high cholesterol in the family my cholesterol levels were good. To top it all I took two physicals (including EKG's) in 2011 in preparation for hip surgery earlier in the year. Everything checked out good. 

So how does someone who is in good shape and exercises regularly have an heart attack while exercising? Even though there is no history (until now) of heart disease in my family I still managed to build up a plague deposit in one of my coronary arteries, the LAD to be exact. While watching my cardiologist repair my LAD in less then twenty minutes with an angioplasty and two stents, he found no evidence of plague buildup in any of my other arteries. The offending artery had a good size buildup of plague. Plague buildup in the artery is characterized by a soft center surrounded by a hard shell. Under the pressure of  blood flowing through my artery, while cycling hard that Christmas day, the soft inner plague broke through the outer shell and blocked my artery and lead to an arrhythmia (irregular heart beat). Even after the blood flow was restored to my heart it took another ten hours for the arrhythmia to settle down. 

Even with a 100% blockage of my LAD I suffered no permanent damage to my heart muscle. I got help reasonably fast (I should have called 911 for a faster response). About 40 minutes passed from the time I started feeling the intense pain in my chest and the pain radiating down my left arm until Carrie got me to the fire station.  A couple of aspirin, a little nitroglycerin and an IV in my arm and the pain started to ease up. This was shortly followed by a code 3 ride over to the hospital.

Another factor that played into getting me through this mess without any heart damage was my fitness level. Even with a compromised coronary artery I have managed to build up a strong heart and vascular system with years of cycling and hiking. Even with a blocked artery and arrhythmia my heart muscle was still receiving just enough support from the healthy arteries to keep my heart "alive" until I received help.

I now know that all my arteries are in good condition. While performing the angioplasty my cardiologist took a little time to examine the rest of the arteries around my heart and gave me a thumbs up. In the future I will be taking stress tests every three years to determine the health of my heart. It seems to me that anyone over the age of fifty, has a family history of heart disease or is a competitive athlete should be taking a stress test. Doctors tell us that after you turn fifty you should have a camera stuck up your behind every few years to check for problems in the colon. How about a stress test for your heart every few years? A stress test is the most effective way to determine if you have fat filled arteries.

It'll take a little time to get used to such mundane bodily functions as the pressure of a burp working it's way up and out... it ain't a heart attack it's just that burrito I ate for lunch.

For many a heart attach would be a wake up call. Having a heart attach and getting through it was a confirmation call that I've successfully prepared for this "shit happens" moment. Being physically fit does not come easy for me but over the years I have put forth the effort to stay fit and it has paid off. I can't predict the future I can only stay strong and be prepared for whatever I'm dealt. My cardiologist says I'm good for the long run but when my time does come I will accept my fate knowing full well that I did the best I could do to be part of the lives of those I love and who love me. Until that time comes...

Here's an easy to follow guide about heart disease.
Visual Guide to Heart Disease


  1. Glad to hear about the speedy recovery and otherwise "all's clear" for the rest of your system.

    Ride on, indeed!


  2. Mark,

    Read with interest as I had an MI in 2002 at the age of 41. Same LAD, stent, the whole bit. Biggest diff was I have high cholesterol and a bad family history but never any signs until that day. Unstable plaque is the problem, gotta keep taking the ASA and other stuff. And I hate the BP medication, which I still take.

    Found you as I'm planning on upgrade from a Burley two wheel bent to a Catrike. I'm really looking forward to it. Gotta stay active.

    Glad to hear you recovered so quickly.

    DH in Canada