No guarantees

No, this is not about product warranties or legal fine print. This is about life. In mid-September, I became a member of a club I never considered joining. I’m now a heart attack survivor. My heart attack was sudden, unexpected, but, thanks to medical technology, successfully treated.

Of the six or seven risk factors usually associated with heart disease, my moderately high cholesterol was the only factor that stood out. Regardless, I had a heart attack and am now a heart disease patient. Wow. I’m not an athlete by any means, but I thought I was doing all right with my health.  I keep active, I don’t smoke, I drink very little, I have low blood pressure, I’m not diabetic, and I try to eat healthy meals. Well, there are no guarantees.

A quick chronology of the events from last September: I biked to meet a friend for lunch. At 1 p.m., I got chest pain that obviously wasn’t heartburn. By 1:30 p.m. I had been transported to the hospital emergency room. By 4 p.m. I had been in the Catheterization Lab, had an angiogram, had the blood clot removed and 5 stents placed, and was in the Cardiac ICU.  

It was surreal that 48 hours after my initial chest pains, I was out of the hospital and eating lunch on the patio of a café a couple of blocks from home. I started cardiac rehabilitation five days later and was back working in mid-October. There was a significant loss of heart function, but how much or how little will be a permanent I don’t know yet. There are no guarantees.

The doctors and nurses did amazing work. Medical technology today is unbelievable. After this event, the health professionals I worked with made it clear this was a serious event and my future health was in my hands regardless of the capabilities of modern medicine. Since then, I’m now on medications to lower my cholesterol, I’ve been working to achieve a better diet, and I’m exercising more and back to an active life. Not just busy, but a physically active life.  

I’ve learned a few things in these past months. First, don’t ignore symptoms. I initially thought I had just swallowed wrong and the pain would go away in a few minutes. That didn’t happen and my friend who was with me made it clear I didn’t look good. That was enough for me to agree to the 911 call.

By the time the ambulance team arrived, it felt like I had been hit in the chest with a baseball bat. The initial heart monitoring didn’t show clear evidence of a heart problem, but when the angiogram pictures came on the screen, in the words of one of the cardiac team “the whole room went quiet.” Second, it’s easy to get complacent and think medical technology will come to the rescue. I have nothing to show for what happened. The doctors cleared the arteries in my heart, I now take drugs to lower my cholesterol and to help repair my damaged heart, and I even lost some weight. Why should I change my lifestyle? There are no guarantees.

Third, physical activity is beneficial. As I said before, I’m no athlete, but I am physically active.  I asked most of the doctors if being active played any part in my heart attack and all of them agreed it was important in both survival of the initial event and in recovering from the effects of the heart attack. There was heart capacity that was available when needed. Also, I lost some heart capacity, how much is still to be determined, but rebuilding a heart that already had been “tuned up” so to speak has given me a head start. The people I see working alongside me at rehab show me that I’m very fortunate. I haven’t had multiple cardiac events, I don’t have multiple risk factors, I haven’t had to have multiple surgeries. But, there are no guarantees.

This article hasn’t really been about biking, but I’m back on the bike and it’s as much fun as ever. Keep riding, keep active, stay safe and maybe I’ll see you out  there. I’ll continue to be active and work to make our area more inviting and conducive to biking and an active, healthy lifestyle. That I guarantee.

Dan Breva is the manager of the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center at the Midtown Exchange. He has bike commuted for more than 10 years.