Turn on your heartlight

You may have heard that I had what the doctors called a heart attack. So many people have asked “What happened?” that I thought I would take a minute and post the details from beginning to present.

On the evening of Friday, March 19, 2010, I began to feel ill and awoke the next morning unable to move, with a fever of 104. I canceled my ski plans and spent the next three days in bed, during which time I was diagnosed with strep throat. I seem to get strep throat every 12 months or so, but this episode was significantly worse. Once I was no longer contagious, I returned to work and my health continued to improve. I was soon back on my bike trainer and planned a Saturday morning ride.

On Saturday, March 27, 2010, I went on a leisurely 32 mile bike ride–the relatively slow pace dictated by 30 degree predawn temperatures and the fact that I felt I could not catch my breath during the entire ride. I fell asleep on the couch that night but awoke with chest pain when I made my way up to bed around midnight.

The chest pain continued through Sunday afternoon, but at around 1:45 (during testimony meeting at church, which I’ve always found hazardous to one’s health :)), the chest pain became much more pronounced, I began having severe pain in my left shoulder, and I began sweating and having shortness of breath. I quickly made my way home and we headed to an urgent care facility. They performed an ECG and found ST segment elevation (one of the signs of a heart attack), upon which they administered nitroglycerin (not as explosive as movies lead me to believe) and called an ambulance (where they administered more nitro).

The nitro helped, but the ambulance ride did not. It was surreal laying on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance, siren whirring, passing Ali at a red light as she/we made her way to the hospital. I could see the panic in her face, and I hope to never see it again.

Once at the Intermountain Medical Center, they administered further nitroglycerin and performed a number of blood tests. The physician continued to assure me that I was too young to have a heart attack (especially given my health) and that there must be another explanation. Once the blood test results were available showing elevated troponin levels, indicating that the ECG was correct and that I had indeed had a heart attack, the physician continued to tell me how shocking the result was. In the meantime, I was administered a blessing by my clergyman father in which I was assured that there would be no permanent damage to my heart.

The doctors performed an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of my heart), and I was then rushed to the cath lab and the doctors performed an angiography. They found my heart was performing well and that there were no blockages.

I was sent to the Coronary ICU where they continued the blood tests, ECGs, chest x-rays, and other tests. The monitors continued to show elevated ST segments, and they scheduled a CT scan of my chest to see whether there were any blockages in my lungs. There were none, and after 24 hours I was transferred out of the Coronary ICU and into the heart and lung wing of the hospital. At both places, I found I was at least 30 years younger the anyone on either of those two floors, which wasn’t particularly comforting (yet, oddly, at the same time was comforting as I knew I would be the first person out of there and that I could beat any patient on the floor in a foot race around the wing).

The cardiologists came to the conclusion that the strep infection from the week before made its way to my heart causing my heart to become inflamed, which inflammation caused what appeared to be a heart attack, but not in the traditional sense (where the heart suffers from a blockage and begins to die). There was nothing I could have done to prevent this one. They remarked that had I not been in good physical condition and begun strep treatment so quickly, I would have been in much worse shape and could have required surgery. As it is, I was discharged from the hospital 48 hours after I was admitted, feeling much better and with minimal chest pain. The doctors do not believe the damage to my heart will cause any long-term problems, a blessing indeed. A week in bed, some medicine, plenty of the Cosby show on cable should be all the rehab I need.

A few observations:

1. I don’t look forward to getting old. Looking around at my hospital mates was good motivation to live a healthy lifestyle–I think I lowered the average weight on my floor by 100 pounds while I was there. Getting old may be bad, but getting old and falling out of shape is worse.

2. I found it very entertaining that my breakfast while in the Coronary ICU was a waffle and sausage. I haven’t had sausage in about 20 years, and I wasn’t about to start while in the hospital for heart problems!

3. Lunch while in the Coronary ICU was roast beef covered in gravy. Another mind-boggling meal for someone in the heart unit.

4. We undoubtedly have the best family and friends to ever exist. We have been overwhelmed by the number of phone calls, emails, visits, prayers, meal and kid-watching offers, and other outpourings of support. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed and have been much appreciated by my spouse and me. For several hours she (and I) thought that there was a chance that she might be required to raise our three rambunctious boys on her own. Your support during those first 24 hours was appreciated at a level you’ll not soon understand.

5. I’m glad to be on my way to recovery. I’m glad for the able care of skilled physicians who knew how to take care of me (and who knew how to calm my wife’s tattered nerves). I am as blessed a person as I know.

As the great Neil Diamond wrote “Turn on your heartlight, let it shine wherever you go, Let it make a happy glow for all the world to see.” Lame lyrics by a very handsome man, but you’ve turned on your heartlight on our behalf. 🙂 Again, thank you for all of your efforts; we are very grateful to you.

Jake, Ali, and the boys