This is a Prologue to tomorrow’s Testimonial Tuesday post, “Heart Disease Saved My Life”, which will feature my father’s story. This was an email sent from my dad in May 2010 in the cardiac intensive care unit in Covington, LA. It’s important to understand his medical background, which was an important part of his Paleo journey.
Dear Family and Friends,
For those who don’t know I have been at St. Tammany hospital since Monday. The proud recipient of two stents and a pacemaker!
I would like you to read my story and the message that I would like to convey.
My body clock is up at 4:00 a.m. since my cardiologist is a workhorse and has made rounds at this time for the last few days. I thought I would write my thoughts on what happened to me. The ironic thing about timing is that my body likes to break down prior to holiday weekends. Last year I had an unexplained TIA(now downgraded from stroke), on the Friday before Labor Day, causing me to miss my father’s big 80th birthday party. This time the week prior to Memorial Day, now forcing me to abandon a week in SanDestin. I realize in the grand scheme of things those are trivial events, but think that even next ground hog day, I will be anxious waiting for the next shoe to drop sort of speak. The other thing is that both events took place after a strict training regiment where I felt I was in top shape. When the TIA hit I was in my 9th week of P90X and feeling incredibly fit. This time I had joined a Crossfit studio, wanting to drop some weight and change things up. I was into those workouts for the last 30 days and actually dropped 13 lbs with the endorsed zone diet, and pretty rigorous combination of high intensity cardio and weight lifting. In hindsight the coincidence is no accident, but also probably saved my life.(I’ll explain).
Monday morning I was starting a Crossfit Regiment by running a quarter of a mile. Very soon after just a hundred yards or so I experienced a feeling that was totally foreign to me. In the past ironman triathlon training I have pushed my body in lots of ways, total dehydration, swallowing diesel fuel during the swim portion of a race, ending up several times over the years in the medical tent with IV fluids, but I knew this was totally different and NOT GOOD! I became totally lightheaded and had a feeling in my chest(not pain or tightness of an MI) that brought me to my knees immediately. I sat for awhile, walked back and went home immediately. I got on the phone as soon as a local cardiologist office opened and proceeded to do my best sales job as to why they needed to fit me in asap for a stress test. They fit me in around 11:00 a.m. and I had the mindset that I was going to ace this test! Well 4 minutes on the treadmill I noticed my heart rate went from 110 beats to 70 very quickly, and thought that shouldn’t be happening! and at that moment the nurse almost tackled me off the treadmill onto a gurney as my heart rate plunged to 40. All hell broke lose and I had the presence of mind to call my neighbor Jim Woodard, a close friend who is a retired cardiologist and now the guy who saved my life(another I’ll explain). We had a minute before the entire medical staff entered the room and I gave the nurse the phone to tell Jim from a cardiac point of view what had happened. All I knew is that I had failed that test miserably and was in disbelief that another health nightmare was about to commence AGAIN! The physician explained to me that I underwent 3rd degree heart block(the worst), which is actually a block of the electrical system of the heart, meaning the upper and lower chambers were totally out of sync causing my heart rate to plunge. It isn’t necessarily fatal but could be if I passed out for any length of time. (keep in mind I don’t have a medical background).
I was checked into St. Tammany Hospital’s CCU unit across the street immediately, actually driving myself after recovering and walking into admitting and up to cardiac care, which is part of ICU, for constant monitoring. The nurses said it really must be a slow day when the critical care patients were actually walking into the unit. I didn’t see the cardiologist until around 4:30 p.m. and his first words were,”So who is Dr. Woodard?” I know egos and could tell immediately that his had been slightly bruised by what I could only assume at that point was a phone call from Jim. I proceeded to explain the relationship and tried to assure him that I wasn’t already trying to second guess our new doctor-patient relationship. He proceeds to tell us that Jim highly recommended an angiagram, an invasive procedure to confirm and fix via angioplasty and stents any plumbing problems of the heart. He informed us he would perform this but thought this would more than likely be an electrical problem of the heart, ultimately requiring a pacemaker. Then another cardiologist, an electrical specialist, came in and told me how he would perform a procedure on Wednesday that checked the electrical pathways of the heart and again pointed to a probable pacemaker solution.
On Tuesday I was wheeled down to the cath lab for the angiagram only to wake up hours later to find out that to the surprise of the cardiologist he discovered and stented two major blockages, including an artery referred to as the Widow maker which was 90% blocked. This is the one that causes you to have the unsurvivable heart attack. I also had two minor blockages that we will go back in at a later date to stent as well. A lab tech who was in the room later confided to me that the cardiologist was pretty surprised at what he was seeing. I don’t fit the profile of a cardiac patient. Relatively young, 49, no drinking, smoking, eats well and exercises, with no family history! The cardiologist brought Mary into the cath lab after the procedure to show her the film of the blockages and to tell her that Dr. Woodard was right! I am not second guessing this guy but am convinced that if not for Jim’s urging we probably would have skipped this procedure and gone right to the perceived electrical problem. Ultimately, after consulting around the country with other physicians, my cardiologist and Jim agreed the pacemaker would be good insurance to have. After all I am in the insurance business, so I didn’t hesitate to comply. The thoughts were that even though I ultimately passed the electrical pathways test of my heart, and the arterial blockages probably caused my heart block, better not to take a chance that it could happen in the future even managing any further blockages.
Jim’s intervention, or perhaps God having Jim intervene on my behalf saved my life. The fact that I had an unexplained TIA last September,(more than likely related to my newly discovered coronary artery disease) and was on Plavix and a statin since that time, probably saved my life. My fitness level which over the years didn’t prevent the blockages, but helped develop anterior vessels in the heart and allowed me to have blood flow around the blockages, probably saved my life. If not for this, I would have more than likely had a fatal heart attack! You can’t overcome the genetic hand you are dealt but I am proof that your fitness level can absolutely counterbalance the effects. And now I can manage the arterial disease, but I couldn’t if I didn’t know it was there. I have had many EKG’s in the past and always passed with flying colors.
But the thing is this….my catholic faith has me believe in the powerful saving grace of Jesus Christ. I have to disclose that in the past I recited those words, but because of my ego and perceived control of my life and health I didn’t get it. I got it now and will share my testimony every chance I have. Keep in mind this is something I am not used to or very comfortable doing….but am compelled.
In summary, there are many messages here including to listen to your body and be proactive with your health! That means for you macho guys out there in order to get a checkup you actually have to go to the doctor! I feel blessed to be here and won’t take anything in my life for granted. Thanks for listening and all the support. I hope to see each of you soon.