My story begins in Las Vegas, in October 2015. I was in Vegas for my company’s annual sales conference. In an attempt to not gain 10 pounds that week from eating unhealthy conference food and drinking a few beers each night, I decided that I would commit to getting up each morning at 5am to exercise. I stuck to my commitment, and exercised on a treadmill and stair stepper each morning alongside one of my all time favorite sales managers… (As a brief history of myself, I would consider myself a fairly active and healthy individual. I have played many sports in my life, and played soccer at a fairly high level through college. Beyond college, I continued to play hockey and soccer, I mountain bike, run regularly, lift weights and on and on)….but during those days in Las Vegas, something didn’t feel quite right. I had a little bit of a pain in the center of my chest when I was running on the treadmill. I dismissed the feeling at the time, thinking that it was likely from eating that yummy conference food, or drinking soda which I don’t often do, or from getting less sleep being away from my wife and kids. Whatever it was, I chalked it up as nothing to worry about, in fact I even told my boss who was alongside me but said it was no big deal. I finished the sales conference, and flew home to Colorado.
Over the next few weeks, I ran many times and experienced the same feeling in my chest. It wasn’t intense pain, but felt very similar to acid reflux or “heartburn.” I remember one day I was out for my typical 5 mile run, and actually stopped and began walking. When I got home that day, I figured it was time to call the Dr and see about getting this reflux feeling fixed so that I could get back to running. I called my primary care doctor and scheduled a routine physical (I didn’t assume anything major, so thought that I would have her check on that but might as well get a full physical at the same time). My appointment was scheduled for 2 weeks later, Monday November 30th. On November 29th, I played racquetball with with of my best friends. This time, the pain in my chest was a bit more intense and we had to take short breaks for it to subside (looking back this was one of the dumbest things that I have ever done was to keep playing). It still just felt like intense acid reflux or the feeling that you often can get from running outside when its cold. We finished the game with no issues and went home. I was glad that tomorrow I was finally going to get some medication to fix this reflux feeling.
It’s physical day! When I walked into my doctors office, her nurse asked me why I was there. I told her that I was having some chest pain when I would work out, but thought that I would just get a full physical while I was at it. She informed me that the doctor couldn’t perform a full physical since I was experiencing chest pain, and she asked me why I scheduled a physical and didn’t tell them when making the appointment that I was having chest pain. I simply said that I didn’t think it was a big deal, so just thought I would bring it up during my physical (looking back, this was another really dumb mistake…I’ll call it a lesson learned and hope that if you are reading this you don’t make the same mistake if you are ever faced with a similar situation). The nurse left, and my doctor came into the room. She asked me her regular doctor visit questions and then asked about the chest pains that I was having, when, how often, what triggered them, etc. Because I was only having them during intense exercise, she too thought that it was likely acid reflux. But, because I have an amazing doctor, she said, “Just to be safe, I’m going to have you go get blood work done and an EKG.” I will forever be indebted to my primary care physician for following procedure and not just going with her instinct that it was most likely acid reflux. This decision likely saved my life! I went down to the lab, got my blood drawn and EKG completed and went home. I called my wife and told her that it was just reflux, but they were doing some tests just to be 100% certain.
I finished work that day, went and picked the kids up from school as usual, and my wife got home from work. We went through our normal family routine of dinner, dance music and playing with the kids, and putting the kids to bed. My wife went to bed early around 8:30, and I stayed up and watched some senseless TV. Around 9:30 that night (same night as my physcial appointment and blood work), my phone rang. On the other end was the on call Dr (my Dr was gone for the evening). The on call Dr was very short and to the point with me, she said “Mark, your blood work has come back with elevated levels of Troponin. You need to take aspirin immediately, and get to the emergency room right away.” I was COMPLETELY caught off guard, and immediately went into panic mode. I asked the Dr a couple of questions (I can’t even remember what I asked), but I do remember her saying “Mark, you just need to get the the ER right away, there is a potentially serious issue with your heart.” My first thought was honestly, HOLY SHIT, AM I ABOUT TO DIE??? My second and simultaneous thought was my wife and kids. I went back to our bedroom, woke up my wife and told her the news. The kids were sound asleep up in their rooms. We decided that I would drive myself to the hospital, because my wife had to stay with the kids. My wife stayed calm, and tried to keep me calm as I gathered up my keys, wallet and jacket and prepared to leave as fast as possible to follow the demand from the Dr to get to the ER immediately. Then, reality sank in. I hugged my wife like I have never hugged her before, told her I loved her like never before, and she again assured me that everything was going to be ok. Then came the hardest part of my life to date, kissing my babies goodbye. As I walked up to my kids bedrooms a millions things were racing through my mind, but one thing kept coming up…was I about to kiss my 3 year old boy and 5 year old daughter for the very last time? As usual, they were both as peaceful and cute as can be when I went to kiss them goodbye. I told my son how proud of him I already was for who he had become in just 3 short years on this Earth. I told him to be strong no matter what happened, and to take care of Mom and Sis as the man of the house should anything happen to me. I kissed him on the forehead and lips and just stared at him for a few moments. Next I went to my daughter’s room. I told her how proud of her I was for the smart, funny and beautiful girl that she had become. I told her how much I loved her, and that I would always love her. I kissed her and rubbed her arm gently so that I didn’t wake her. I remember just crying as I said goodbye to them, not knowing what was happening or what was to come. I went back downstairs and hugged and kissed my wife one more time before leaving for the ER. It was the most gut wrenching moment of my life kissing my wife and kids goodbye that night, and something that I will never forget.
As I drove to the ER (about 20 minutes from home), I was primarily focused on trying to keep myself calm because I thought that if I worked myself up I might have a heart attack. I listened to some country music, took deep breaths, and made it to the hospital. They checked me in, took me back and began doing more tests and monitoring that night. In my next blog post, I will describe the events, thoughts, feelings, tests, etc that went on in the ER and ultimately in the cardiac emergency department of the hospital. My next blog post will be titled, “The Day My Life Changed Forever.”
I promise that all of my posts won’t be this long, all about me, or sappy. I just want to set the stage and let everyone know my story and why this is so meaningful to me. I hope to provide insight and inspiration to others who may face this situation themselves one day. I hope to provide learning lessons from my experiences, healthy diet and exercise tips, and pass on education that I learn about preventing heart disease. I hope to connect with other young adults and young parents who are living with heart disease. And finally, I want my family and friends to understand my story, thoughts and feelings about living with heart disease.
I will leave you today, as I will every day, with my favorite quote:
“Dream as if You Will Live Forever, Live as if You Only Have Today!”