America The Beautiful

amber-waves

On this Tuesday, November 8th, 2016….otherwise known as Election Day, I thought that I would step away from the divisive rhetoric and offer a possibly unique perspective.

Today, as I ran through these Amber Waves of Grain while Staring at these Spacious Skies and Purple Mountains Majesty, I am simply thankful to be alive in this Land of the Free and Home of the Brave that WE all share. I am thankful for all of my friends and family, republican and democrat, white, black, hispanic, latino, gay, straight, religious, non religious. I am thankful for the perfect strangers that I ran past that gave me a huge smile and “Good Morning” regardless of political beliefs. I am thankful that I got to wake up this morning, kiss my wife and kids and send them off to school on this beautiful morning. I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to laugh and cry this year. I’m thankful that I have had the chance many more times to tell my wife, kids, siblings, my Mom and Dad, my family and my friends that I love them. I am thankful that my heart is beating strong. I am thankful to be alive in this great nation with all of YOU!!

As Always, Dream as if You’ll Live Forever, Live as if You Only Have Today!

 

 

Fueling Our Hearts

I recently received a text message from a very close friend who I don’t see very often anymore due to the distance between us. His message simply said, “Marky (that’s what people called me growing up), thought you should know that your situation has inspired me to start running again – today was day 23 and I ain’t stopping!” I cried when I read that, and still do today when I think about it. It’s messages like those that inspire me to keep writing these blogs. That buddy of mine has a beautiful young family just like my own, and to think that my story may in some way help him live a longer and happier life with those that he loves means an awful lot to me. I continue to be humbled by all of the people who have reached out to me to say that my story has helped them in some way.

I haven’t written much before about health and nutrition, but today I am going to. I am not a doctor or a dietitian, but I am a heart disease survivor who most would consider very healthy today. Prior to my heart event (see previous posts of my story if y

race-photoou want to know more), I would have told you that I lived a fairly healthy lifestyle and ate fairly well. While that may have been partly true, I have since learned a great deal about diet, nutrition, exercise and an overall healthy lifestyle.

The photo to the right is from this past weekend, 10/9/2016. I had the good fortune of running in a 10K race in which I finished first in my age group (30-39). I ran at an average pace of 6:40/mile. While I’m very proud of that accomplishment, the best part of that race was that my wife, my Dad and my Brother Nate all ran as well, and my Mom and both of my children were there to cheer us on as well. I NEVER would have thought that I would be running races at the pace that I ran this past weekend. I attribute my recent transformation into a runner to two things: changes to my diet, and exercise. The interesting thing to me is that as I said before, I would have considered myself a very healthy person prior to my heart event. Yet now that I have made significant changes to my diet and exercise, I look back and feel like I was far from healthy back then.

To explain this in simple terms that everyone can understand, I use the example of fuel that we put in our cars. We all know that cars (at least gas powered cars) will only operate well and stay in good working condition if we put gasoline in the engine. After all, that is what is intended to put into cars to operate correctly. We wouldn’t put sludge, tar or wet cement into our cars as fuel, because either immediately or over time those substances would destroy the efuel-signngine. Simple and true, right? Everyone can agree on that, and everyone simply follows that logic for their cars. If we only put into our car engines things that are non-toxic to them, then why don’t we follow the same rules for the most important engine in our lives, our hearts!?! Think about that for a minute….we would NEVER put anything in our meaningless car engine that could hurt it, yet we CONSTANTLY put into our most precious engines (our hearts) substances that are known to slowly destroy us. This has really gotten me thinking recently, and I want to share some of the changes that I have made. This is not meant to be a preaching session, but I do hope that it helps some people think differently about how we fuel our bodies and hearts. If you think that you are healthy, have no heart or other health issues and don’t need to consider these things, believe me, I was right there with you. And maybe you don’t have anything to worry about, but this is still good food for thought (pun intended).

Food & Drinks
Prior to my heart event, I would say that I ate on the healthier side of the average American (maybe around the top third as a guess). I thought that I was eating ok, because I felt that I wasn’t “fat.” I am now 30 pounds lighter than I was pre-event, and I feel that I am now very close to my truly healthy weight. Clearly, I wasn’t doing quite as good as I might have thought. After my heart event, you might say that I became somewhat obsessed with what went into my body. In fact, at first, I was actually afraid to put anything into my body other than water. Since then, I have educated myself through books and world renown doctors in the subject of cardiology and heart healthy diets. At a very high level, I quickly learned that the typical American diet is like putting sludge and wet cement into our engines on a daily basis, with a splash of gasoline here and there. In reality, we should be doing the exact opposite (although many doctors will say that there should never be a splash of the bad stuff. I say, we have to live at least a little every now and then). What I learned is that I was consuming a vast amount of processed foods, foods full of saturated and trans fats, foods loaded with sodium, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, sugars, soda, sugary drinks and on and on. Now, I’m not going to try to rewrite what I have learned from doctors here, but I will say that I have significantly cut back (and cut out) many of those types of foods and I feel amazing today. The two books that I would recommend to anyone interested (heart disease survivor or anyone looking to fuel their bodies better) are as follows: The Complete Mediterranean Diet by Michael Ozner, MD and Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., MD.   Both of those books have changed my life. Those doctors, and many others, may have differing opinions on what the perfect diet is, but what I think they agree on is that the typical American diet filled with the things that I mentioned above is not a healthy way to fuel our bodies. My advice would be to educate yourself through these or other books, and start to read food labels and pay attention to what we’re actually putting into our bodies. I promise, it will be eye opening. A couple of very simple tips. When you look at a food label, if it contains more than 4 ingredients, it may warrant further analysis (this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad but long ingredient list often means that it is a highly processed food). Next, if an ingredient list has a bunch of words that you have never heard, it’s likely chemicals, additives, etc. Final simple tip, vegetables and water are good for you, kind of like premium gasoline :).

Alcohol
I’m going to keep this section short and sweet. I’m simply going to share how I have changed in this area. Again, from my non medical point of view, I believe that alcohol should only be consumed in moderation. Prior to my heart event, I drank a fair amount of beer (mostly IPAs) and liquor. From my research, I have found very little that shows that any one type of alcohol is terrible in moderation. However, I now firmly believe that any amount of alcohol in excess is once again like putting mud into your car engine. Do it over and over for long enough and you are likely to have an engine problem. For me, I have switched to drinking red wine and doing so in moderation (a glass or two per day, but not every day).

Exercise
If you want to read more on how exercise has changed me you can go back and read one of my previous posts: Exercise, My Physical, Mental and Emotional Therapy.  The combination of dietary changes and exercise have truly changed my life, and I feel better today than I ever have before.

In a world where so many things are unpredictable and out of our control, diet and exercise are two things that we can truly own for ourselves. I am by no means perfect in this area, but I have and will continue to educate myself and look for ways to be better so that my engine operates like a well oiled machine for many many many years to come.

Finally, this week marks one year since the first time I felt something funny in my chest as I was running on a treadmill. I waited more than a month before getting it checked out, brushing it off as something “minor.” I am beyond lucky, and I should have gone to see a doctor immediately upon my first chest feelings. Please, if you think that something may be wrong (even if you think it’s nothing), go see a doctor.

As Always,  “Dream As If You’ll Live Forever, Live As If You Only Have Today!”

 

Post Cardiac Event Travel

One of the biggest uncertainties for me after having a cardiac event at the age of 33 was the thought of getting back to work, and even more daunting was the thought of getting back to traveling for work (or pleasure for that matter). I live in Colorado, and my career in technology sales requires me to travel all over the country. I was fortunate enough to take a few weeks off after my cardiac event, but getting back to work meant getting back to travel fairly immediately as well. My purpose of this blog is to share some of my experiences and thoughts on how to successfully get back to traveling after having a cardiac event. Whether for business or pleasure, most people will likely face similar uncertain thoughts as they approach travel for the first time or two after a cardiac event.

Preparation, like most things in life, is critical to traveling after a cardiac event. The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to have a successful and stress free trip. The first time that I had to travel after my cardiac event, I knew that I was going to have some anxiety, so I began preparing for that trip much earlier than normal. I believe that I was traveling on a Wednesday, and my preparation began on that Monday (normally I would have packed and prepared the night before or the day of my travel depending on my flight time). My first action was to make a list. I would highly suggest this to anyone, because your mind will undoubtedly be going in many different directions. My list included the usual items like pants, shirts, underwear, socks, toiletries, etc. But, beyond the regular items, there were suddenly much more important things to remember than matching clothes. I now had added to my list my medications, clothes to exercise in each day, heart healthy snacks/food, and a list of my medical information (I would suggest taking a copy of your discharge paperwork from your hospital or cardiologist). Making a detailed list will ensure that you don’t forget something important to your health, as well as the not so important items. A quick funny story. After my first few trips post cardiac event, I felt that I could go without a list. While I certainly didn’t forget any of the critical health items, what I did forget were both my undershirts and ties for work. The old me would have been upset that I had forgot those items, but now it was something that I just laughed off and went on with my business.

As for the actual travel, I again would highly suggest allowing for ample extra time. Being rushed often makes us stressed, and stress is something that we can likely all agree is a good thing to avoid post cardiac events. For me, getting to the airport early so that I am not rushed is important to reducing stress. If flying or travel is something that stresses you out in general, I would also suggest talking with your primary care physician or cardiologist prior to travel. They may be able to make suggestions, or provide medical help to reduce/relieve that stress or anxiety.

Rather than going into detail about my personal travel stories, here is a list of “lessons learned” after my first few trips post-cardiac event:

  • Pack items for the plane that will occupy your mind (so that you don’t sit and dwell on your health thoughts for the duration of the flight). I find that a good book is best, but I also always have calming music and my tablet with a couple of good movies loaded.
  • If you plan on dining at the airport, do your homework to find a real restaurant with heart healthy options. Skip the quick and easy cheeseburger. Again, plan for extra time. Most airports have sit down restaurants with plenty of heart healthy options, but they do require planning extra time in your schedule.
  • Pack exercise clothes. We all know that physical exercise is critical to our heart health. I always pack exercise clothes for each day of my trip, and I commit to exercising each day away. This helps reduce stress, and of course helps heart health.
  • Pack healthy snacks. Skip the high sodium peanuts or chips on the airplane and hotels, and pack your own heart healthy snacks. It can be difficult (or just inconvenient) to try and find healthy snacks, so pack some from home. For me, I like raw nuts, carrots and organic fig bars.
  • When packing my medications, I have begun packing three additional days worth. I do this just in case I get stuck somewhere due to a cancelled flight, etc.
  • Prior to traveling for the first time, I talked with both my primary care physician as well as my cardiologist to make sure that they didn’t have any concerns. Beyond just asking them if its ok to travel, I also reviewed with them things that were in my toiletry bag. For example, I use Zyrtec for allergy medicine and Tylenol as a pain reducer. I asked to make sure that none of what I “used” to take would interfere with my heart medications.
  • Make sure you have a list of your medications, dosages, contact numbers for your PCP, cardiologist and pharmacy. Again, these are all just precautions, but good to have in the rare case that you may need them.
  • Don’t fear travel. I have quickly learned that traveling is really no different for me now than before, with the exception that I better prepare and allow for more time.
  • Lastly, ENJOY YOUR TRIP!! Whether for business or pleasure, I have found that I am much more appreciative of travel now. If you’re traveling for vacation, make it as stress free and relaxing as possible. Nothing is better for the heart (in my non-medical opinion) than pure relaxation and fun.

I would love to hear what tips others have as they have began traveling again.

Until next time, “Dream as if You’ll Live Forever, Live as if You Only Have Today!”

Caption (photo below): My awesome kids during our first family vacation
after my surgery. Nothing better than playing on the beach with them,
holding my wife’s hand as we walked down the shore, relaxing and
just plain enjoying life!!

kids beach

Exercise: My Physical, Mental & Emotional Therapy

12k – 7.5 Miles – 52:45 – 7:05 Minutes per Mile – 2nd place in my age division – 3rd place male overall

If someone had told me a few months ago that almost exactly 6 months to the day after having a stent put into one of my main heart arteries that I would have run the Taste of Louisville 12k and come in 3rd place overall, I would have been mad at that person for even suggesting something so crazy. Well, a few days ago, that is exactly what I accomplished. 

As  I was recovering from my procedure in the hospital, all of the doctors and nurses stressed the importance of two things to prevent future issues: Diet and Exercise. How many times have we heard those words preached throughout our life?? While it is so obvious that eating healthy and exercising is critical to our long term health, so many of us find ourselves ignoring these simple truths. For me, unfortunately it took me coming close to death to truly put Diet and Exercise at the front of the line when it comes to priorities and how I live my life. If you had asked me prior to learning that I had a heart issue, I would have said that I felt that I ate fairly healthy and exercised quite regularly. Looking back, I was feeding my body a lot of toxins and processed foods, and only exercising about 50% of what I should have been. I don’t ever intend to preach to anyone in this blog, but if you’re reading this, I would strongly urge you to consider taking the words Diet and Exercise very seriously. I will focus on Diet in another blog, but today I want to talk about how exercise has so positively effected me mentally, physically and emotionally.

My primary care doctor (who is also a health coach) has told my wife and I for years that weight control is 80% diet and 20% exercise, but that both are equally as important to leading a healthy & happy life (Again, some advice that I wished I had heeded the first time I heard her say this to me years ago). As I have noted in previous posts, the days immediately following my procedure were filled with dark, scary, uncertain and unsettling thoughts. I wasn’t sure how (or if) I was going to get back to the normal life that I was previously living. Simply put, I felt fragile. Thank goodness that I live in what is often considered the most healthy city in America, and my doctors were insistent that I should begin cardiac rehab immediately after being discharged. Cardiac rehab is about getting you back to feeling comfortable with the idea of exercising again. It is where you go to regain your confidence in your ability to walk/run/lift weights/etc as you recover from a heart incident or procedure. You are in the presence of cardiac nurses, with heart and oxygen monitors attached to your body to track your every step. I can honestly say that without cardiac rehab, I may be sitting here 6 months after my procedure still feeling scared to get up and walk. But instead, I am sitting here writing about how I am in the best shape of my life. I read stories about heart patients all the time that are afraid or embarrassed to go to their cardiac rehab appointments. If you’re reading this and in that situation, please go. Cardiac rehab got me back to running confidently at the pace and distance that I was previous to my procedure. As much, if not more importantly, getting back to exercising allowed me to get back to life mentally and emotionally.

Physically, I’m doing great! I am in the best shape of my adult life right now, and I will continue to get even better, faster, stronger. I find at least one hour every day to dedicate to exercise. In my opinion, there is no more important investment that a person can make in themselves than investing in your health. As grave as it is to say, without it, there is nothing. The best part about the physical fitness (aside from looking in the mirror and seeing the results), is the direct correlation and effect it has had on my emotional and mental well being. I am now a profound believer that physical, mental and emotional health are 100% connected. From a mental perspective, exercise has meant everything to my physical recovery and state of mind. I think that the best example that I can give is that after my procedure, any tiny feeling/pain I would have in my body led me to believe that something may be wrong. It could have been something as simple as my foot falling asleep, or a muscle twitching in my arm or leg, or a minor headache. The power of exercise on shifting that mental concern is that if I go for a 4 or 5 mile run and feel great, than when I have a minor feeling in my body I don’t have any reason to believe that it is a cause for concern. As my cardiologist puts it, by me exercising at a high level every day, I am putting my body through the equivalent of a stress test every day. Finally, from an emotional standpoint, exercise has really helped me contain and maintain my emotions. Prior to my increase in exercise, I would often let my emotions get the best of me. Whether it was getting overly stressed about something at work, or getting upset with my kids over something silly, I did not have a good handle on my emotions. Now, I am able to keep calm much better and maintain a more level emotional state (not that I’m perfect with this, but it is much better).

Finally, the last thing that I will say about exercise is that you don’t have to be in it alone. For me, there have been many friends, neighbors and family that I have reached out to when I want to go for a walk, run, bike ride, golfing, etc etc. I am very fortunate to have had many many very good friends and family help me through my journey to this point. When it comes to exercise there are two special people that have been there for and/or with me every step of the way. First is my wife. I’ve ranted and raved in other posts about how incredible she has been, and exercise is no exception to that. Whether it is encouraging me to go for a run, running together (on those rare occassions that we are together without the kids), playing with the kids more outside as a family, buying me new athletic gear, telling me how great I’m doing, and on and on, she has been nothing but encouraging and supportive of my exercising needs and desires. Second, is my friend Wes. Everyone knows that saying that you will find out who your true friends are when adversity strikes. Well, I have had a lot of friends live up to this saying throughout my little journey these past 6 months for which I’m extremely grateful, but when it comes to exercise my man Wes has been the best friend I could ask for. From going for walks with me shortly after the procedure, to running 8 miles together at 5am on many occassions, to sending me encouraging text messages after a good workout, Wes has truly been there for me. If you find yourself in a position where you can be someone’s Wes or what my wife been for me, do your best to encourage that person. I may never be able to fully and accurately express it in words, but that support has meant absolutely everything to me and being where I am today.

“Dream as if You’ll Live Forever, Live as if You Only Have Today!”

Taste of Louis

 

 

6 Months!!!

Today, 6/1/2016, marks 6 months since I had my stent placed on 12/1/2015. I went for the run below this morning and ran 4.17 miles at a 7:10 minute pace. I’m in the best shape I’ve been since probably high school. I’m running a 12k this Saturday. More to come after that race on how exercise has helped me physically, mentally and emotionally…

Until then my friends, “Dream as if You’ll Live Forever, Live as if You Only Have Today!”

6_1_2016 Run

The Aftermath

First, my apologies for the length between my last blog and this one…I’ve been busy enjoying life! Since my last posting, my son turned 4, I turned 34, my wife and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary and we went to Siesta Key with the kids for a week.

What I’m going to write about in this blog is the immediate aftermath of my procedure. This may be boring to some, but I hope that others who are currently going through something similar now or in the future will find it helpful.

If you have ever had any type of surgery where they sedated you, you know how it feels to “wake up” but still being in a daze. I don’t know exactly what anesthetics they gave me for my procedure, but whatever it was made my mind fuzzy for a while. I know this, because as I think back and try to recall some of the moments immediately after, I have a hard time putting the pieces of the puzzle in the correct order. To help with that, my wife proofreads these posts to keep me honest. Anyway, the first thing that I remember feeling as I came out of the fog was a bit of disbelief. If you recall from previous posts, before going into the catheter procedure, the Drs told me that they didn’t believe that they were going to find anything major. So, to be told as I’m coming out of the fog that I had a stent put in my heart to fix a 99% blockage in one of my main arteries was a bit of a shock, to say the least. The disbelief quickly merged into a complicated mix of fear, uncertainty, anger and gratitude.

Once the fog had lifted, and I was laying in the hospital bed recovering, I began to think about what this all meant. The realization that I had heart disease began to kick in, and that was a very scary realization at first. All of the fear and emotions that I felt were centered around my wife and kids. All of the thoughts and questions that you think would go through your mind in a moment like that, did for me. I laid there wondering if I was going to be able to see my kids grow up. See my son play sports, graduate from high school, go to college, have a family. See my daughter continue to beat boys in sports, protect her from bad boys, high school, college, and finally walk her down the aisle (this still gets me to this day every time I think about it). And my wife, my amazing wife Abbie, I just kept thinking about how much we still have to conquer together. And was I going to be leaving my wife with this incredibly difficult task of raising our kids on her own and explaining to them some day what happened to Daddy. My wife lost her mother at an early age, and I just kept feeling angry at myself, because I felt like I was about to put my wife through the same thing all over again, only this time as a parent. So many scary thoughts went through my mind, and it was very difficult to avoid them.

On the flip side, doctors and nurses would come in to check on me constantly, and they would all be in great spirits and talk about how well the procedure went. Nobody could explain why I had the blockage, but they all told me that it was fixed. I asked a number of doctors what this meant for me going forward, and they all told me that my heart is likely healthier than its been in a long time (or maybe ever) and that I should expect to lead a long, happy and healthy life. When I would think about my procedure from this perspective, I would be overwhelmed with gratitude. Grateful that I had such a great team of doctors. Grateful that I listened to my body and went to the doctor when I had chest pains, which likely avoided me from having a massive heart attack running on a trail in the middle of nowhere someday. Grateful that my wife was sitting next to me as I recovered instead of saying goodbye to me. Grateful that my heart was fixed! I was grateful for many things, but in the moment it was hard to latch on to the positive. I found myself focused on the negative and uncertainty.

I think that one of my doctors said it best when she said, “Mark, you just stared your own mortality square in the eyes at the age of 33, it’s normal to feel scared.”

If I could give advice to anyone going through a similar situation, I would simply tell them to do whatever they can to latch on to the positive. Don’t hide from the fear and uncertainty, those emotions are important and very real. But, its the positive thoughts that will carry you through the difficult times. I believe that feelings and emotions feed off of themselves, and it is much better to have a snowball of positive energy than negative when faced with adversity.

Looking back, it feels like I was in the hospital recovering for a week. In reality, my procedure was done on December 1st at 3:30pm, and I was discharged on the afternoon of December 2nd. For those who have kids, the feeling that I had when leaving the hospital was a bit like taking your first child home from the hospital. It’s that, “Oh Shit, what do I do now that I’m not surrounded by doctors” feeling. While I was emotionally all over the place while I was in the hospital, the one thing that I didn’t worry too much about was if something went wrong medically, because I was surrounded by an amazing team of cardiologists, nurses and other doctors. When I went home and was no longer on a heart monitor 24/7, surrounded by those doctors, everything changed for me. I was no longer just scared, I was damn near paralyzed by my mind.

The first few days at home were very difficult for me. All of those thoughts that were going through my mind while in the hospital continued, but were magnified by a thousand times as I lie in bed alone. On top of the emotional thoughts, I was now starting to worry about every tiny movement I made and every physical feeling that I had. I guess the easiest way to explain it was that I felt very fragile. I drank a ton of water, but wasn’t very interested in eating. I felt ok laying still in bed, but felt like I was going to pass out when I would try to get out of bed. I could temporarily keep my mind at ease watching tv, but when there was silence I would be overcome with anxiety and fear. These were constant themes for me for about the first week at home. It not only effected me, but began to effect my wife and children. When I realized that it began effecting my kids, that was when I finally made the conscious decision to snap out of it and try to get my life back to normal.

Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself that Mark is a total wuss. It wasn’t that big of a deal, he just had a stent put in. A lot of people have that done every day. In a lot of respects, you may be right. But in this case, I believe that I was mostly scared due to my lack of knowledge and all of the uncertainty that came with just not knowing what this all meant. This is exactly why I’m writing this blog. Because I hope that the next 33 year old Daddy (or Mommy) and Husband (or Wife) that finds themselves in this situation will know that it isn’t all doom and gloom. I’ll write about this more in a future post, but I am less than 6 months removed from the procedure and I am doing amazing! I am working out and/or running 6+ days per week, I’m in the best shape I’ve been since college, and as a bonus my wife says I’m “hunky” now.

I won’t pretend that I don’t ever have negative thoughts or concerns still, but I have found ways to focus on the positives and feed off of that energy rather than the negative. More to come on this in future posts as well.

Until next time, “Dream as if You’ll Live Forever, Live as if You Only Have Today!”

family siesta key

Mark, You Can Be Cautious, But You Can’t Stop Living!

April 1st marked 4 months since the day that I had my heart procedure. On April 1st, I was snowboarding the back country of A-Basin with my brothers and friends, and hiking to the top of the mountain ( 13,000+ feet). The pictures at the end of this post are of me and my view during that ascent. As I’m writing this post on 4/4, I just got back from a 4 mile run. Since my heart procedure, I have run approx 150 miles, snowboarded multiple times, played golf, played disc golf, biked with my kids, played with my kids countless times, chopped down 5 trees, and many other physical activities. So what’s my point!?! Am I just trying to brag? Am I trying to prove something to you? No, not at all. My point is that while heart disease can drag you down and make you think that you may never be able to do the things that you once did, it can also have the opposite effect on you. This post will be about the lessons that I have learned, both pre-procedure and post-procedure. Probably the most important thing that anyone said to me after my procedure came from my brother Pete, when he visited me just a few days after coming home from the hospital. I was down in the dumps; scared, confused, worried, afraid to eat/walk/sleep. Pete said to me, “Mark, you can be cautious, but you can’t stop living.” While I didn’t fully appreciate what he was saying at the time, I have come to learn that it was probably the best advice that I could give to anyone going through a similar situation. So, my hope of this post is that as I list out the learning lessons through my experience, that they may help others now or in the future.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and don’t pretend to be one. These are merely my personal experiences and lessons learned from my perspective. I would strongly urge any and everyone to go to http://www.heart.org (American Heart Association website) to educate yourself on heart health.

Pre-Procedure Learning Lessons (in no particular order)

  • Establish a good relationship with your primary care physician and get regular physicals (at least one per year). Ask your doctor what types of baseline tests you should have done, and how often. I got lucky in this sense. I had an EKG done for something unrelated about 5 years ago. When I had my recent heart issue and had new EKGs done, many many doctors looked at them and said they look normal. Only ONE doctor said otherwise, and that was my primary care physician (PCP), because she had my baseline result from 5 years ago that showed the most minor difference from the new EKG. This, along with my blood work ordered by my  PCP, were likely life saving tests. I’m not a Dr, so ask yours, but I would recommend asking your doctor about getting baseline blood work and an EKG if you are an adult and don’t already have them on file.
  • Listen to what your body is telling you! In today’s busy and fast-paced world, it is easy to ignore feelings in your body and “get to them when you have time.” If you have read my previous posts, you know that I went weeks with minor chest pains, and I continued to exercise very regularly. I scheduled a physical with my doctor for a few weeks later when it was convenient for me. Not to be over dramatic, but there were many times in those few weeks that I could have died. I should have listened to my body and gone in immediately.
  • Be honest with yourself and with your Dr. As I just noted, I scheduled a physical when I was having chest pains during exercise….looking back this was so stupid of me! I shouldn’t have been scheduling a physical when I called my Dr, I should have told them that I was having chest pains when exercising and they wouldn’t have had me wait 3 weeks to come in. Again, I’m just extremely lucky that I made it through those 3 weeks. Remember, a doctor can only help you if you are honest and tell them everything you can about what you are feeling…don’t be shy or ashamed of sharing, it just may save your life!
  • Treat your body and life with respect, you only get one chance! Everyone knows that they should exercise daily and eat healthy, but very few people do. Again, making the excuse that I’m too busy, I can’t break away from work, I don’t have the energy to, etc etc.  I felt that I was fairly healthy pre-procedure. I exercised on average about 3 times per week, and ate what would be considered fairly healthy. However, it clearly wasn’t enough. Looking back, I thought that I was healthy, but made many poor decisions; I should have been exercising at least 5 days a week, I should have been much more aware of the processed foods & saturated fats that I was putting into my body regularly, and I probably shouldn’t have been drinking IPAs on an almost nightly basis (I haven’t had one since and haven’t even had the urge). I’ll leave my new heart healthy diet and lifestyle changes for another blog, but again if you want to learn more visit heart.org.

Post-Procedure Learning Lessons (in no particular order)

  • The initial shock of waking up and learning that you have heart disease is extremely scary and unnerving (or at least it was for me). Again, I’m 33, with a beautiful wife and two toddlers. I was scared, shocked, confused, emotional, uncertain, anxious. Looking back, I was probably a bit overboard about everything, but it was just one of those things that I never expected and I just didn’t know what to think or feel. I guess my advice would be that it is ok (and maybe even good) to have that flood of feelings, thoughts and emotions. That initial shock made me think about a lot of things in my life. It brought perspective to so many aspects of life, and helped me understand what really matters. For instance, it’s no longer a big deal when my kids spill something. I don’t get mad if someone is driving a little slower in front of me than I would like. I make time for exercise & healthy eating, the world isn’t going to end if I take an hour break from work each day. Nothing is more important than spending time with my wife and kids. I could list a million different life perspectives that I have since realized.
  • “Dream as if You’ll Live Forever, Live as if You Only Have Today.” My wife and I have had that quote hanging in our house for many years and I always liked it, but it never really hit home with me until I got home from the hospital and saw it hanging where it always has in our house. I’m not going to expand on this one, I think the quote says it all.
  • Doctors and modern medicine are amazing, and we should all be grateful for both. I don’t know how else to say it, but I can’t thank my primary care doctor, the ER doctors that helped me, and my cardiology staff enough. They all saved my life. Find good doctors that you can trust and be open with. Many people have heard my story and have asked me to show them my scar. I point to a red dot on my wrist, about the size of the tip of a pencil. That is the only outward evidence on my body that I had 99% blockage in a major artery in my heart. I don’t know about you, but I’m happy that I am living and had this happen in 2016, and not 60 years ago. As one of the cardiologists said to me, “who knows, maybe they will have a pill for this kind of issue someday soon.”
  • The first few weeks after the procedure were extremely difficult for me, both physically and mentally, especially mentally. The physical limitations were mostly driven by the mental. From a physical standpoint, I pretty much laid in bed for a week, only getting up to go to the bathroom and eat (albeit eating sparingly). From a mental standpoint, there are two words that can explain how I felt; scared and anxious. I was scared about what this meant for me, but mostly for my wife and kids. I was scared that I wasn’t going to be there for my kids. I was scared that I was leaving my wife with a very difficult life going forward. I was scared because I felt like I may not be “fixed.” And then there was the anxiety. Constantly worrying about every move I made. Not wanting to get out of bed. Not being able to sleep. Not wanting to see other people. WANTING to see and play with my kids, but being so anxious that I felt like I was going to pass out if I would get out of bed to hang out with them. Looking back, it was certainly fair for me to feel these things, but I could have done things to handle them better. First, there is medication for the anxiety that I was having. I should have asked for it long before I did (it works). There are many other things that help as well; yoga, meditation, therapy (to name a few).
  • Cardiac Rehab is important. I know that I made it sound in that last bullet like I sulked in my bed for months on end. In reality, it was really only a week or two. Then, I had to get out of bed because I had to go to my first cardiac rehab appointment. Funny story…My parents came to town to be with me after the procedure, so my Dad came with me to my first rehab appointment. We sat down in this little room, and one of the nurses came in. She walked up to my Dad and said, “Hi Mark, let’s get started.” My Dad’s name is Jack, I’m Mark. She just assumed that it was the 73 year old there for cardiac rehab, not his 33 year old son. HA! We all had a good laugh. Anyway, regardless of your age, if you ever find yourself needing a heart procedure, I would highly recommend going to and sticking with cardiac rehab. They rebuilt my confidence to exercise in a matter of a couple weeks. I was running multiple 8-minute miles with no issues just a few short weeks after my procedure…and most of it was thanks to cardiac rehab.
  • Family and Friends are so important. I am blessed to be from a big and very close immediate family, as well as extended family. I am also blessed to have some of the best friends anyone could ask for. My family and friends that were there for me, brought me and my family food, helped with my kids, helped my wife, etc will never probably know just how much it meant to me. I say this for anyone reading this. If you have a family member or friend going through tough times (be it medical or otherwise), lend them a hand in any way you can. It truly lifted my spirits to have so much love and support around me.
  • “Mark, You Can Be Cautious, But Don’t Stop Living.” I mentioned this at the beginning of the post as maybe the most important learning lesson, and here’s why. That day that my brother Pete came to my house was in the middle of the time when I was afraid to get out of bed, full of anxiety and scared of just about everything. Pete must have been able to see and sense all of that from me, and I’m so glad that he said that to me. First and foremost, he was right. The doctors had told me that my heart was now healthier than ever, so there was really no reason to lay in bed all day. Second, there is no reason to lay in bed all day and fear life. But most importantly, my being so scared and laying in bed all day was having an enormous unintended consequence that I wasn’t aware of. It was effecting my daughter. My laying in bed all day and not doing all of my normal Daddy stuff, it made her feel that she was in a sense “losing” me. When my wife took her to the doctor thinking she was sick, and came home to tell me that the doctor said that she had anxiety due to what was going on at home, I felt terrible. I quickly made an adjustment to get back to living as quickly and normally as I could, and guess what, my daughter quickly got better too :). The statement that my brother made to me that day was important on many levels. It’s easy to sulk, but it feels so much better to get back out there and live life to its fullest (even if that means being a little more cautious at times).
  • It’s a process. I am certainly not afraid to admit that I am still working on some of the mental aspects of all of this. I believe time heals all wounds, and I am somewhere in the middle of that process.
  • Life is fragile. I know that people say it all the time, but it’s all true. Hug your wife, kids, loved ones like you mean it every day. You just never know.

Until next time….
“Dream as if You’ll Live Forever, Live as if You Only Have Today.”

 

4 Months to the day after my procedure (4/1/2016). Back country                    snowboarding at 13,000+ feet.