Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My First Heart Attack

8 February 2012

One of the reasons I started writing this blog was to provide a description of what my experiences have been, and are, with getting old. In particular I want to talk about the ailments that come along the way and how I handled them. I do this as a means to be informative for younger people but also for my friends who regardless of age, may benefit from knowing what I go through.

I am mindful of my age this morning as I am writing this article.  I am 52 years old. It is 49 degrees right now here in Converse, Texas and I am sitting here in thermal underwear, sweat pants and shirt and a thick robe. I have on two pairs of socks and my feet are resting on a heating pad. The suns coming out and I feel like I am ice fishing butt necked on the North Pole. I think my being cold is related to my heart disease and circulatory disease or maybe a side effect of some of the medications I am on. But that’s not the theme for today’s article. I write about aging and ailments but I had my first heart attack when I was 20 years old.

At that age I was an Airman 1st Class in the U.S. Air Force enjoying my second overseas tour at Iraklion Air Station Crete, Greece. The largest and most beautiful of the Greek Islands located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It was paradise on Earth. Especially for a young American man. I forget the actual date but I was off duty and at the base beach. I was swimming vigorously as I had a lot of energy I felt I needed to burn, trying to bodysurf in what little waves we had. I was there for most of the afternoon and when I decided to head back to my apartment off base, I felt that I had a very good workout.

Later that evening I had gone to a nearby village, Malia, with some friends to party and be young American men. The night was warm as always and I had been dancing when I noticed a dull pain in my chest. I didn’t pay much attention to it at first but after an hour, it began to get steadily worse and the pain radiated throughout my upper body. I could breathe but each breath became labored and painful and I was sweating excessively. The pain in my chest felt as if someone had their finger pressed firmly in the center. I wasn’t sure what was happening to me but I thought it was a heart attack. But how could that be? I’m 20! So I told my friends I was not feeling well and told them I was going home.

I took a taxi back to the base. It was quite a ways away and I remember having to pay a considerable sum of money but I felt I needed to get to the hospital. I did not want to go to a Greek hospital. When I arrived at the main gate, I got out of the taxi, showed my ID and I can’t remember how I got to the clinic. I may have walked. Iraklion was a small base and the pain while still there was not getting any worse. When I arrived at the base clinic, they took me right in. The doctor on duty asked me a few questions and began massaging my chest. His diagnosis was that I had pulled a chest muscle. His massaging alleviated some of the sharpness of the pain and the longer I laid there the better I felt. The doctor did not do any chest x-rays or EKG. No blood work was ordered. His contention was that I was 20 and it was very unlikely that I was having a heart attack. I think he was wrong and I think now, in hindsight, that a more thorough cardiac workup should have been done.

I have always remembered this. I remember the days after that night and how my chest felt and how weak I felt afterwards. I was tired and my chest muscles were sore. I remember the next day going back to swim to “work it out” and it seemed to help some but I noticed I didn’t swim for long, I got tired. But when I had my heart attacks in 2003, I remember that pain then in 1980 and they were the same kind of pain. It wasn’t as bad in 1980 but the afterwards pain was very similar. When you have a heart attack, your chest feels bruised for some time afterwards and you feel tired. I had that in 1980 and the same, albeit worse, in 2003.

On 23 October 2003, at Louisville, Kentucky’s Jewish Hospital I had a 6 vessel heart bypass. After that surgery the surgeon, Dr. Slater, told me that my heart was almost fully blocked and from the damage he had seen to my heart, he told me that it was apparent that I had probably had several heart attacks throughout my life. When he said that, I immediately thought of that night in 1980. I also thought of several minor incidents that made me pause and think “Is this a heart problem?” and I dismissed it thinking “Well if it happens again, I’ll go see a doctor then”. I’ve done that many times in my life and who knows, if I had been smarter and less afraid of facing the truth, I would be in better shape today.

The point here is that heart disease can happen at any time. You can have a heart defect or a condition where your heart does not work properly or efficiently. You can have heart attacks at any age and if you are born with a heart condition, there’s not much you can really do about it. But you can make it better for yourself. Get yourself checked out regularly. I see my cardiologist now once every six months or so. I have to now and at least once every two years I take a stress test. And of course, live better, live smarter. I gave my body hell throughout most of my life and I am extremely lucky to be sitting here today. Trust me, I would not wish everything I have been through on anybody and I pray that everyone is smarter than I was.

It is American Heart Month and this week is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week. Heart problems strike us all, regardless of your sex, race, and ethnicity and if there were Martians I bet they’d have heart problems too. There is a belief that women don’t suffer from heart disease as much as men yet few know that heart disease is the number 1 killer of women today! So ladies, I know you have enough reasons to go get checked out by doctors but it’s gotta be done, please do!!!!! In my related links section there are links to heart related sites for info, donations, events and activities. I hope that everyone makes good heart health a priority every day.

Have a Blessed Day!

Todays “Did Ya Know?” Today is the 102nd anniversary of the Boy scouts of America! I was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout in my youth and some of my fondest memories are from my association with the Scouts. It is a great program for young men of today and can help shape their lives.

Related Links:

American Heart Association – Info on heart disease and the “Go Red” campaign:

WebMD’s Heart Health Center:

Boy Scouts of America website


  1. Nice article Don... enjoyed the insight

  2. Thank you for reading my blog and I appreciate the compliment!