3 Lessons I Learned From Having a Heart Attack

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link…don’t let that weak link appear in your heart health

Have you heard the phrase, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link? Imagine, no matter how strong the metal a literal chain is made from, it is of no value if two or three of its links were each connected by a single strand of doll hair. Useless. This principle or concept is also true of our health – especially our heart health.

In December I had a heart attack. True. It hurt like h@ll. I never want to go through that again. And I never want to put my family through seeing me pass out from a failing heart again. I also don’t want you to ever experience a heart attack either. That is why I post this information. Not for my sake but for yours.

You see, when it comes to heart health there are only three areas I’ve learned we need to watch for to totally avoid ever having a heart attack. Unlike cancer or getting hit by a car or having an airplane crash on our home with us in it avoiding a heart attack is said to be 100% within our control–as long as we pay attention to all three areas of concern. Miss any one of the areas and your health is in danger. Just as dangerous as trusting a strong chain with one or two weak links.

You are what you eat… and drink

The first area of concern is our diet. What we eat and what we drink can lead to a heart attack. No big news there. But most people seemingly do not know that processed sugar, salt, and all forms of oil (yes even ‘healthy’ olive oils and coconut oils) can lead to a heart attack by laying down tracks that may result in injuring the innermost lining of your arteries. And don’t get me started about the dangers of synthetics that are added to our foods to boost corporate profits at the expense of our health.

For years I would pride myself on knowing I was eating primarily a plant-based diet. But because we did a bit more entertaining of guests in our home in 2016 than perhaps any other year I ate more red meats and salt-drenched side dishes in 2016 than possibly any other year in the past two decades. Aside from those entertaining events I mostly stuck to eating plants and occasionally eating grilled chicken, tuna, eggs or some other animal based food item. I limited animal products to no more than once (if at all) per day in small quantities along with mostly plants on my plate or in my bowl.

Of 365 days of the year I ate ‘clean’ (with exception of huge amounts of olive oil and coconut oil in 2016) on perhaps more than 330 of those days. Deluding myself while consuming too much red meat “occasionally” and consuming too many ‘good’ oils and salts may have been a contributing factor to my heart attack. Obviously eating ‘mostly’ clean wasn’t good enough.

Oddly enough after my heart attack and while I was still in the hospital an emergency room doctor told me it is possible to treat heart disease without surgery using only diet if time is on your side. The process is said to be effective at preventing heart attacks in the first place too. For me that is too late. For you it doesn’t have to be.

My goal for 2017 is to avoid all added oils, salts, sugars, and chemicals to the best degree possible. 350+ days of the year minimum. 365 would be better but I know that is not going to happen this year. Success not perfection I’m shooting for. By 2018 though I hope to have fully embraced a healthy plant-based lifestyle for a year following Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., MD’s research found in his book “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.”

According to Dr. Esselstyn, research has shown that patients who had significant coronary artery heart disease could halt and reverse their illness simply by avoiding any oil, meat, and dairy products and eating whole food, plant-based nutrition. This is just one approach to fixing the problem. To learn more about his approach read his book. Or even better just read the six introductory pages of his family’s cookbook of similar name. The cookbook summarizes in plain language the reasoning behind the approach that is spelled out in the hundreds of pages of his book.

Seems each of these books is available at most good libraries. So if you don’t want to spend any cash visit your library. You might find a copy.

I learned of Dr. Esselstyn after researching more about Dr. Dean Ornish‘s natural approach to fighting heart disease. It was Dr Ornish’s research the emergency room doctor introduced me too. I simply prefer Esselstyn’s more restrictive approach.

Get moving

The second area of concern is our fitness level. Regular fitness is required to avoid a heart attack. Nothing extreme. Simple brisk walking for a half an hour every day can do much to help avoid ever dying from a heart attack. Notice I said REGULAR.

For me after my high school days fitness has for the most part remained hit and miss. I’d remain consistent for a few months or maybe even a year or two and then lose interest. Or I’d continue for years but miss days (or weeks or months) here and there and start back up at random. For the past three years or so I kid myself by saying gardening and organic hot composting and cold composting were my forms of exercise.

Looking back I didn’t realize that the excessive sweating to the point of soaking my clothes while gardening was a clue something was wrong. I figured it was just a side effect of working too hard in the heat. Nope. Sweating to the point my clothes were soaked was a sign of a struggling heart. Too bad I had to have a heart attack to actually realize this. Clearly ‘almost daily’ gardening was not good enough. To receive the full benefit exercise efforts must be accomplished daily—before you have a heart attack or angina. As one of my doctors told me, there is no drug as powerful as regular exercise. So choose your pill. Exercise or surgery. Or worse–death. Control is in your hands.

Calm the heck down

The third area to pay attention to is our stress levels. Stress can kill all by itself. Even if the other two areas in your life are good you can still die of a heart attack from stress alone. This may be self-imposed stress, environmental stress, work, family, finances, or whatever. A wiser man than me once wrote, “A calm heart gives the body life.“ So then what does a stressed heart lead to? Death. Avoiding stress is perhaps my biggest area of concern.

While in Good Samaritan Hospital after they put two stents in my heart it was observed over a number of days that I quite likely internalize problems and conflicts. For some people, if a problem occurs they blow up or lash out. I tend to suppress and then relive the experiences in my head over and over and over again for days, weeks, months and in some cases years later– as if the event were occurring in the moment. In real-time. Not good because my heart and body is in constant fight or flight mode when I relive stressful situations or conflicts – even if this happens when I’m all alone. This is something I might need to work on for a long time.

Before being discharged from the ICU I was advised to take up some form of yoga, meditation, swimming, or whatever it takes to get outside of my own head. For now I’ve found something else that seems to work…

Breathe

So far the best tools I’ve found for getting outside of my own head are breathing exercises. I run through the exercises at least twice a day. They immediately lower my BP by 20 points when my bp is high. Blew my mind the first time it happened. Had no clue this was even possible. I thought it was new age hype. It isn’t.

Controlling my breathing is proving to be good in the short term. But long term and for any immediate stress-inducing situations I might otherwise become reactive in, something more is needed. I know that. But I’m still working out those details. Count to ten. Lame. Doesn’t work. Breathe… relax… and wait… before speaking. That works. If I remember to do it. Otherwise I’m raging inside doing all I can not to react outwardly. Is my ax to grind. Sometimes leaving a situation without speaking is best step a person can take. Maybe I’ll try that one. If there is a next time.

In summary here’s what I learned:

Lesson One: Consistently eat whole foods. Primarily plants. Stay away from synthetics and food-like products that have little to no nutritional value. No more justifying I’m eating clean ‘most of the time.’ Especially while recovering shoot for primarily a plant-based lifestyle while trying to eat clean, all of the time.

Lesson Two: Exercise. Regularly. Seriously. Do it. You don’t even have to join a gym unless you choose to. It costs nothing to get out and walk. Hire a personal trainer or join a gym once your doctor says it’s ok to do so. Be warned. Exercising if you are already ill can make matters worse. This is why I stress getting competent medical advice before implementing exercise. Why kill yourself while trying to get healthy. Defeats the purpose :/

Lesson Three: Avoid stress. Stay the heck away from caustic people and caustic situations. If by chance you are the caustic person practice breathing exercises while you work on putting on a new personality. Not only will your heart love you more… so will other people. Even if you are not the caustic person, practice breathing exercises anyways. They work better at lowering my BP than the bp drugs I had taken years ago.

Peace out. Good health to you.

Legal/medical note: I’m not a doctor, nutritionist, or medical professional of any kind. So if you have any health concerns or are not already addressing all three areas above (ideally with medical supervision) I urge you to seek competent professional medical advice and get evaluated before a problem occurs. Dealing with a heart attack afterward sucks.

A serious warning about trusting the wrong medical advice…

“It’s Not Your Heart” they said…

For a number of years I was told over and over again, ‘It’s not your heart.’ Clearly they were wrong. Decades of cues were screaming ‘danger.’ I passed out from extreme pain throughout my body a number of times over the years, long before my heart attack. The first time I passed out was in 2007 or 2008.

And in June 2016 I broke my nose upon face-first impact onto the tiled floor and endured non-critical organs having shut down as my body fought to keep me alive—at 2:00 in the morning. If during any of these or other black outs I had hit something other than the floor on the way down or if others had not been around to call 911 I might not be here today. This is why I say seek competent help.

As one medical professional said to me while I was in the ICU, “even M.D.’s get d’s.” His point was that a person can become an MD even if they just barely squeaked their way through college. A medical degree itself is not a guarantee of competence. It is only a point of entry into the field. Experience, knowledge, and openness for learning and applying new understandings is what qualifies medical professionals. At least that’s what I have found, though almost too late.

Sadly, a number of doctors do not possess even a basic level of understanding of the impact of foods and nutrition. Some have no idea what sodium ascorbate is. Some do not know what oxalates are and have no clue of how they might impact prescribed meds or how they might impact our bodies when consumed in excess. Perhaps you don’t know what these are either. No big deal. But for health professionals this is unacceptable.

I’m not harping on all doctors. There are a number of really good doctors. There is one doctor whose hands I put my life…and survived. Though I sure hope this never happens again I’d do it again if I were in the same situation. I trust her. She’s proven to be a competent professional who knows far more than I know and is well rounded about every health concern I raised. She may be an exception. I say this because I’ve fled from far more doctors than I trust.

If you feel your doctor is not among the competent few find another. Don’t let anyone’s incompetence or lack of knowledge become the weakest link in your health chain. Your life might one day depend on the choices you make today. Choose to keep living. Eat clean and healthy. Stay away from toxins in foods and beverages. Exercise. And above all else avoid stress.

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