13 Valuable Tips for Heart Health and Things Not to Ignore
Our Personal Story and Lessons Learned
As you know from last week’s blog, my BoomerGuy had a “check up” as he calls it for his heart. It was a full day in the hospital with about a week recovery.
What you may not know is that he is what they call the One Percenter (1%) or the truly blessed and lucky one who survived a particular type of heart attack called the Widow Maker which occurred six years ago in November.
I am really the lucky one to have him still with me for all these years, and I’ll try to make this long ordeal as short as possible.
This is my BoomerGuy on his birthday in September 2015 before his heart attack. One of our favorite outdoor recreational places is Mammoth Lakes California in the Sierra Mountains.
You would never know by looking at the photo what was lurking around the corner. We certainly didn’t.
We have always been physically active. I’m certain this had a great deal to do with his survival, recovery and will to live. Plus, his skilled cardiologists, extraordinary hospital team and air-vac pilots, who helped him survive his heart attack.
We had no idea after driving to Orange County for Thanksgiving and attending our nephew’s wedding that Saturday, that the following Sunday, November 29, 2015 he would be spending the evening in the ICU after a major heart attack.
We were on a hike in the hills about an hour east of Temecula, away from homes and businesses except for a large RV park and other hikers. We took off that morning without our cell phones. One of us always has a cell phone except on that day. We were hiking along and he stopped and asked me if I saw all the beautiful little birds in the tree. I looked up and saw nothing except the tree. I continued on a few steps and looked back and BOOM he was down. No cell phone and no people around that I could see. I had training in CPR over 40 years ago but had never used it, but instinctively I dropped to my knees and began breathing life back into his body, all the while screaming for help and saying lots of prayers for my best friend to live. I whispered to him with each breath to stay with me.
Out of nowhere, a little older man appeared and said he would help me. He disappeared and brought back another hiker who happened to be a firefighter who immediately took over the CPR the right way. He spent over 45 minutes giving compression to his heart. The older man’s name was Guy and he was like an angel that dropped out of the sky to help us.
They called 911 and due to the remote location immediately dispatched a Medical Evac Helicopter from Temecula Valley Hospital. They secured him in the helicopter and told me to meet them at the hospital. If you’ve ever seen the inside of one of these life-saving flights there Is no room for anyone other than the patient, the 2-man emergency team and of course the pilots.
I arrived at the hospital what seemed like a long time before the AirVac team arrived. What I didn’t realize is that they were delayed because my husband coded three times and they worked furiously to save him before taking off.
We’re probably a little over an hour and a half into the ordeal at this point. And if you know anything about heart attacks the most critical time to make a difference is the first hour after the onset, it’s called the “golden hour.” Given appropriate action within the first 60 minutes can reverse its effects. This concept is extremely important to understand because most deaths and final arrests occur during this period.
Having arrived I had to wait patiently for the AirVac team to land and move him into surgery. What I didn’t realize is that the CEO of Temecula Valley Hospital had recently set up an advanced cardiac ward with some of the best cardiac and vascular surgeons in southern California. We had the pleasure of meeting with this female administrator and her staff and thanking them profusely. She is a true professional bringing this hospital to the forefront of exceptional healthcare, and is probably not yet into her Boomer years, but nonetheless, let’s hear it for the business ladies and BoomerGal’s.
Now keep in mind, we are in the final day of a four-day Thanksgiving weekend and here I am sitting alone waiting for any news, not knowing if there was enough staff to care for my husband. The best sight I ever saw was when these three cardiologists came walking down the hall to speak to me about options. Where did they come from? Why were they there on a Sunday? Well, they had just finished with an emergency and then the helicopter arrived. They could have departed to rejoin their families for the remainder of the weekend, but what do true professionals do, they save another life.
Timing? Oh yeah! Lucky or blessed? Both! They have become known within the circles of the hospital as our Rock Stars.
It was a long week in ICU and then recovery. None of us were sure what kind of damage he might have suffered from coding so many times. But with the heart repaired and an immense sense of gratitude for another chance at life, my BoomerGuy persevered and overcame all the obstacles.
Since then, we continue our exercise program almost daily, and strive to adhere at least 80% of our diet. Ah yes, the diet is all important. The nutritionist at the hospital told us if we could stick to a heart healthy diet at least 80% of the time, then we were winners. Let’s hear it for the heart healthy diet and exercise.
It’s been almost six years since that fateful heart incident. And it was time for a tune up having not done so well on a recent stress test. So he had an angiogram to better assess what damage still exists and what if any blockage is impairing blood flow.
His cardiologist noticed some scarring on the anterior tip of the heart which is common after a heart attack, but was amazed at how little scarring was actually evident. Scarring of this nature can lead to an overworked heart, congestive heart failure and an increased risk of stroke. Fortunately, his heart muscle has healed itself from the scarring and upon further examination his arteries are clear and functioning quite normal. And his original stent is in great shape not requiring any further maintenance. If you think these results have anything to do with exercise and diet you are absolutely correct!
As the cardiologist said, my BoomerHusband is one strong guy.
Now for us, we can return to our exercise program which consists mainly of bike riding for 30 minutes a day and maintaining our healthy eating habits.
We will next schedule what is known as the Watchman procedure, a minimally invasive venous catheterization where an implant is placed into the left atrium of the heart. The reason: it is the gold standard for getting patients off blood thinning medication which can be so detrimental if taken over a long period of time.
What have we learned from all this? Quite a bit actually, and I think my helpful tips are absolutely necessary for you to follow if you want stay healthy and maintain a certain level of mental and physical wellness as we continue to age into our Boomer years.
- Always, always have a cell phone with you wherever you go and make sure it’s charged.
- Try to stay calm in the event of a sudden heart incident. Remember the Golden Hour and do everything in your power to make certain the person you are with gets immediate care. You will be asked to make a lot of decisions during the ordeal, so keep your head about you and offer as much helpful advice as possible.
- As soon as practical, reach out to family or friends for their guidance and support.
- Have your affairs in order, just in case. This can range from details about your financial portfolio to insurance and computer access, making certain all your files are up-to-date. I find it helpful to have a spreadsheet showing monthly income and outgoing expenses.
- Stay on top of your medical appointments. I have a friend who ignored her doctor’s appointments and the warning signs of high blood pressure and unfortunately had a mini-stroke. She was one to never give up her salt regardless of her doctor’s advice, and now suffers from blurred vision, balance problems and can no longer drive. Another whose husband did not see a doctor for years even though she knew he had definite signs of cardiac impairment; and yes he died of a heart attack this past December. I sat with her in the back room of her local hospital and watched the color drain out of her face when the staff came in to inform her of his passing. Don’t stick your head in the sand and ignore the warning signs, set those appointments with your doctors and stay healthy.
- If you are relocating, make sure you know what medical resources are around you and check them out.
- Realize that today’s medical professionals are strapped dealing with COVID in the background. Schedules are often subject to change, what you thought should run smoothly might not, there could be a shortage of ICU and/or hospital beds, wait times for your appointments could be longer than you expect, etc. All of this changes day x day. Be patient with your healthcare provider, they are equally stressed about the circumstances.
- Expect to show your vaccination card and be tested for COVID if you are entering a hospital environment. Come prepared. That’s just the way it is.
- Please wear your mask regardless of your vaccination status because your health professional will expect it. They wear theirs…you wear yours!
- Stay relevant. Read everything you can about your condition and take control of your health. Knowledge is a wonderful asset, especially when communicating with your doctor. Trust me, they will appreciate the fact you’ve taken the time to become educated.
- Do not play Russian Roulette with your health. Read, stay on top of your healthcare providers, and by all means EXERCISE AND STAY WITH A GOOD DIET.
- Write a “rose letter” to your healthcare professionals thanking them for being there and providing such outstanding care during these times of the pandemic. My husband wrote just such a letter to his cardiologist recognizing and thanking his office staff, the pre- and post-op nurses, and his cardiac cath team. Do you have any idea how many don’t even gesture with a “thanks.”
- And lastly, take some badly needed downtime. In this highly charged world we live in, it’s OK to disconnect and rest your mind and body.
As I write this blog, my heart is eternally grateful!
Please let me know if you found my story and this information helpful in anyway. I am always looking for feedback, and as always, if you wish to contribute to my blog please send your thoughts on email.
Your BoomerGal, Connie