14 September, 2011


Yesterday was an anniversary of sorts for me although I'm writing this on the actual anniversary date. On September 13, 1992 I had a heart attack, a very large heart attack. What should I do? Is this an anniversary to celebrate, simply because I'm alive and can? Or is it an anniversary to be repressed because it might remind my family of a difficult time?

I'm not sure, but I'm pretty much the only one who notes its occurrence anyway. It would be my preference to celebrate the additional years of life I have been given, but I know how much worry and stress the event caused those I love. I don't want to remind them of that.

I had not felt 100% when I went to bed on the 12th, perhaps some very mild chest discomfort. It can't have been very much pain though because I easily fell asleep. Upon waking, however, things had changed dramatically, and it may have been the pain that awakened me. It was intense, and there was no doubt whatsoever in my mind that I was having a heart attack.

I woke my wife and told her I had to get to hospital - no time to wait for EMTs when she can immediately drive me the two miles to the Emergency Room. While she called relatives to come over to sit with our daughters, I had to go to the bathroom. Talk about adding insult to injury. Here I am having a heart attack, and I have to sit on the toilet. I had no choice though. Arrgghh!!

Finally I was lying in the backseat of the car. I have no idea how fast my wife drove. She pulled up and ran in the ER, and just like that they were wheeling me in.

As it turns out, I had not yet had the heart attack. There was obviously a blockage though, and my heart wasn't happy. They reviewed my record as they prepared to give me a "clot buster" which would open the artery again. Oops. "He had surgery in June?" "Yes." "Oh no, medication guidelines say not to administer within six months of surgery." While they were calling my surgeon (who said give him the damn medicine now!), I had my attack as the artery closed completely. If untreated for five minutes, my kind of blockage is known as the Widow Maker.

All I really recall of that moment was actually a bit later. I got the clot buster, and blood rushed back into that part of my heart. What I recall is my internist hitting me hard in the chest with his fist. My heart had stopped, and he was starting it back up. It worked, thank goodness.

Too late though - the damage was done. The blockage, high in the coronary artery known as LAD (for those of you who know the lingo), had killed a lot of muscle and ultimately left a lot of scar tissue. In the diagram above, the blockage would be above the red spot. Although I feel pretty good today, my heart pumps only about a third of what a healthy heart pumps, and I take a few medications to rein my heart in from trying to compensate for its inefficiency.

I'm lucky. Only 36 hours earlier, I had returned from a two-day board meeting in New York City where I was staying in Syracuse University's townhouse on E 81st Street, just off Fifth Avenue. If the heart attack had occurred in my room there, I would not have survived it.

The real weirdness is that I was warned. I had dinner at the Union League Club my first night in town, and when we got to dessert, I asked for and ate something really decadent but sooooo delicious. As we finished dinner, my host joked that everyone says that dessert will probably give someone a heart attack someday!

Am I celebrating? Yeah - but I'm kind of keeping it to myself, except to share it with you.