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Jan 22 2013

I suffered a massive full-blown widow-maker heart attack

Use DarkSydeOtheMoon@aol.com

Use [email protected]

Update 25 Nov 2013: Med students, heart patients, and interested people, here is an actual post written detailing the signs and symptoms felt while I was suffering what was later diagnosed by a cardiologist as a major heart attack. If you’re up for kicking in a few bucks to help with spiraling healthcare costs due to heart attack and poverty level disability pay, my paypal email is posted above.

So I got the cath results: It wasn’t a minor heart attack folks. It was a full blown widow maker where a primary coronary artery got blocked 100%, and that blockage was right at the top, high enough up that the bottom two-thirds of my entire heart could have been deader than fried chicken. I would have been dead before my body hit the floor.

How am I still alive, much less able to spend the last several hours running up and down stairs, straying all all over the hospital, flirting with night nurses (Oh man, the brains on these gals, I can’t stop talking to them, their science-y minds are so incredibly hot!) just a few hours after the cath that confirmed a massive myocardial infarction? Well, it’s not a miracle …

Now take this with a grain of salt, this is highly educated guesswork, I might have misunderstood or over simplified some of it. But to the best of my knowledge this is a viable theory on what probably happened and why I survived.

They tell me part of it is genetics and part of it is aerobic conditioning. Some people are more or less vascular than others, meaning they have a little more or a little less blood carrying capillaries per unit volume of cardiac muscle. The cath and other results suggest that my heart naturally leans toward a little more. On top of that I’ve been working out like a demon ever since I recovered from a broken back last year. For the last six months in particular my usual routine was to run three to five miles, then either lift weights or do a spinning class. I lost almost 40 pounds doing this over the last six months.

The thing is, this blockage was probably forming for a long time. It may have initially set up on an old minor infection site, it could have been a factory defect or some kind of weird injury that encouraged it to set up where it did, but like a deep nick in an otherwise smooth pipe, that’s where plaque is more likely to start congregating. It builds and builds, and sooner or later a clot or a loose piece of plaque comes along that plugs the final gap, and BAM! Major heart attack. This is probably what happened to me. Two other arteries had some plaque, but nowhere near what this one had and those two were easily taken care of with angioplasty.

I was probably, literally, unknowingly, training my heart to survive a major heart attack. Working out real hard increases capacity anyway, doing it with a major artery blocking up probably speeds the process, lots of cross connecting capillaries from other, viable vessels form. So when the big one came, those much smaller caps were able to keep the cardiac muscle infused with enough oxygen that the tissue survived in pretty good shape. That’s probably why it didn’t hurt much or radiate or cause any traditional symptoms like crushing pressure.

I’m told this isn’t an ideal situation, the heart and arterioles crank the pressure up through the roof to try and push oxygen into the heart. Those little tiny vessels now filling in for a big coronary artery can’t handle that pressure and load for long (My unmedicated blood pressure before the cath was 180/120). They were probably already starting to fail. I was weeks, maybe only days away, from another attack, and it probably would have been one I couldn’t walk away from quite so easily. One tech told me flat out that had this gone on untreated for a few months, it probably would have resulted in a seriesof heart attacks causing permanent loss of cardiac function, unrecoverable and substantial loss at that, and possibly bad enough that I would be an invalid for the few remaining years of my life or even a  transplant candidate. Assuming I survived at all.

The clogged artery was ballooned and took a stent like it was custom made for me. Even under serious twilight sedation, when that balloon was done and they put the stent in, all the sudden it was like I had been holding my breath for three weeks and could suddenly breathe again. It was amazing. Within hours, as soon as they were sure the cath wound on my femoral artery was sealed and the seds wore off, I couldn’t sit still. It was almost like being high I felt so good.

I don’t know what I’ll be able to do at the gym after I finish cardiac rehab – I’ll be on disability and a special heart conditioning program for a few weeks just to be safe. But I can tell just walking around the hospital, I’m going to have the aerobic capacity of a fucking marathon athlete when this is all said and done! And oh baby, I am going to live the rest of my life large and loud and sloppy.

39 comments

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  1. 1
    Pteryxx

    Wow, congratulations (if that’s the appropriate term) on being bad-assed enough to survive that blockage! And thank you for telling this story… it’s definitely worth taking the lesson to heart. as it were.

  2. 2
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Yikes! That’s scary. Glad you’re still with us & blogging and hope that situation continues for many decades of good health for you to come. Wishing you get well(er) soon and no more cardiac arrests please!

    PS. Stumbled on a few of your essays in a book of collected Darwin Awards (IV Intelligent Design) the other day. Interesting pieces – cheers! :-)

  3. 3
    northstar

    Dude! That’s crazy! Glad you’re doing all right!
    And thanks for taking the time to mention all those smarty-hot women, even in the middle of all that… ;-D

  4. 4
    machintelligence

    Wow! Talk about dodging a bullet! I’m glad to hear you are felling so much better. Take it easy and keep us updated (and let us know if you need any financial help.)

  5. 5
    Zeno

    Wow! Do they make get-well cards for this?

  6. 6
    raymoscow

    Wow — it’s good that you survived it and have prospects for a full recovery. Congratulations!

    Heart disease runs in my family (both sides), and my relatives usually don’t survive their ‘big one’. That’s why like you, I work out a lot, watch what I eat, and all that good stuff.

    I’m off to the gym!

  7. 7
    kalkin

    Was the blockage in the left coronary artery, aka: “the Widow Maker”?

  8. 8
    Blueaussi

    Yikes! I am so glad to hear you’re ok!

  9. 9
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    I believe so, it was the left side, but I think I have two arteries there and I don’t know which artery it was (I may have a CD of it soon) and he just walked out the door, I’m being discharged today with strict orders to take it real easy and all that.

  10. 10
    Randomfactor

    Our prayers were answered in the normal way: with equal parts science and dumb luck. :)

  11. 11
    glodson

    Wow.

    I’m glad you made it out of that. And I’m glad you are taking care of the problem. Here’s hoping that your rehab goes well and you take care of yourself.

  12. 12
    otrame

    Wow. I’m glad everything worked out so well.

    Being suddenly relieved of something that builds up so slowly you don’t even notice is an amazing feeling. When I was pregnant with my youngest I developed pre-eclampsia and started retaining water. When I got to my next appointment, the techs took one look at the quicky urinalysis stick (which showed I was spilling protein like crazy) and said “uh oh”, just as the nurse doing my blood pressure said “Holy Cow”. I was in the hospital on complete bed rest in about 15 minutes. Just being on bed rest (which is not otherwise possible when your spouse is a medical student and you have a 6 year old) caused me to lose 19 pounds over night. Not exaggerated. I went to the bathroom about 20 times.

    I, in my 30s and 9 months pregnant, felt like I could walk on my hands down the hallways. I was full of energy. I was almost giddy. I felt so good, it made me realize how bad I had been feeling without noticing. The fact that I had to stay in bed while feeling that good sucked, but I wasn’t really in good shape. In fact after a couple of days they decided that I was in serious trouble and popped the cork on my son a few weeks early.

    So even though you feel so much better , DON’T PUSH IT. You have been dangerously ill and your body needs time to heal. Take it easy, Stepehen. I am so glad things turned out so well for you. And for your readers.

  13. 13
    timberwoof

    It’s good to hear from you. I was a touch worried. It sounds like your walk-around went very, very well: I take that as a good sign. (Mine felt like I had won a very tough hockey game.)

    Spend the recovery time working your recovery program and becoming mindful and aware of your body … the same as you were doing while working out, only more.

    And to everyone else: genetics is not an excuse not to do the best you can in your environment. If you’re not moving, start moving. Get out and walk, if nothing else.

  14. 14
    johnbrown

    Delighted you dodged a bullet here. It inspires me to follow your example.

  15. 15
    magistramarla

    We’re all lucky that we still have you, Stephen.
    Now listen to your docs and take it easy for a while.
    I hope that you have a nice long time to live that large, loud and sloppy life.
    Oh, and I’m hoping to meet you at some Texas skeptics get-together when we move back there in a few months.
    I’m sure that we’ll be going crazy being surrounded by all of the wing-nuts down there and we’ll be looking for some intelligent conversation.

  16. 16
    raymoscow

    My eldest sister died two years ago of a heart attack (as had my dad in his mid 40′s), and so I had a full cardiac workup because I knew I was at risk from my crappy genes.

    Luckily I was all clear heart-wise, but I still am very careful to monitor all the warning signs and do as much preventative stuff as I can. Even if you live healthy (as Stephen has been), heart disease can still develop with little or no warning. So if you’re at risk, get yourself checked out.

  17. 17
    billdaniels

    I will keep you in my prayers.
    Oh, fuck! Who do I think I’m kidding.
    Get well soon.
    BTW, my younger brother is 62 and he had four massive heart attacks last Wednesday and is at home now recovering.

  18. 18
    didgen

    I think you have excellent chance of a great recovery. Not that you can compare two people, but my husband had 98% occlusion of the LAD and had an MI. That was over eighteen years ago, we lead a wonderful life thanks to his cardiologist, nurses, and cath lab personnel.

    His family history of sudden death incidents for males in their early forties is jaw droppingly high i wish you as wonderful a life as we have. Good luck with your recovery.

  19. 19
    Crudely Wrott

    Happy for you, Stephen. You have chosen wisely.

    “Large and loud and sloppy.” What are you doing? Trying to be like me?

    Actually, I think I need to redouble my efforts to catch up with you. Even though my sixty two year old heart keeps on ticking over like a brand new 327 small block, there’s always room for improvement. Maybe I’ll go ahead and get bored and stroked. It couldn’t hurt.

    I wish you a quick and reassuring recovery. Not just because I enjoy your web presence but because you are a fellow human and the trajectory of your life intersects mine at multiple points and because . . . well, just because.

  20. 20
    Karen Locke

    Hope this is sufficiently serious that your employer won’t be a dick about it. Get well quickly!

  21. 21
    John Hinkle

    DarkSyde,

    I’ve been reading you for years, even way back when when you were just a commenter on … well, whatever I was reading.

    I’m so glad you’re still with us. This world is much more interesting with you in it.

    - John

  22. 22
    mudpuddles

    FtB folks having heart trouble… is this a thing now? Can we stop it please? Stay healthy Stephen. ;)

  23. 23
    mxh

    Glad you’re doing ok. I worked in a cardiac ICU for a month and though most people do ok, it gets pretty harrowing. Hope cardiac rehab goes well.

  24. 24
    timberwoof

    mxh, thanks for your work in cardiac ICU. I was in a cardiac recovery unit overnight once. I saw some scary-looking EKGs on the monitors at the nurse’s station … and some things that would confuse Dr. McCoy’s tricorder. =:o

    Crudely Wrott, I read that as boredom and a stroke and realized you were talking displacement! Think on this: the heart is a dual double-cylinder pump with variable bore and stroke and compression ratio, and with doppler ultrasound we can directly measure fluid flow and valve float. :D

    Don’t get bored; don’t get a stroke.

  25. 25
    farwestgirl

    The technical name is ‘collateral circulation’, and it’s the reason that the younger a person is when they first have a heart attack, the more likely it is to be fatal. Since most plaques build fairly slowly the body has time to develop those alternate capillaries over the years, so someone who’s in their 60′s or 70′s has had much longer for their body to adapt than someone in their 40′s.

    Very glad you had been pushing yours to develop and it made the difference.

  26. 26
    thebookofdave

    I am amazed you beat the odds of surviving a total coronary blockage. I am hoping you have time to spare for a full life. And I am giving Workout Girl the credit she is due. She motivated you to stick to your cardio routine, and probably saved your life. Special thanks to her.

  27. 27
    davidmc

    Glad you get to blog another day and hopefully many more to come.

  28. 28
    Hermit Ladee

    “And oh baby, I am going to live the rest of my life large and loud and sloppy.”

    So happy for you!

  29. 29
    Crudely Wrott

    @timberwoof:

    LOL. Thanks. You’ve helped keep me from being bored. The strokes I’m saving for someone special.

    Have a wonderful day!

  30. 30
    Lyn M: ADM MinTruthiness

    That is one hell of a narrative. I must join in the general wow.

    My heart attack was almost 14 years ago. I was in my 40s. I see now, thanks to your explanation, why the cardio guys on my case were so tense. I recovered thanks to dumbass luck and prompt treatment during the actual heart attack itself. (Thanks emergency ward Docs, you were awesome.) Since then, I have lost weight, taken to varous exercise including weight-lifting and walking.

    Hearing how you did, and are doing, really inspires me. I’m getting back on that horse and slotting in more regular exercise again.

    I wish you all the best, and as someone way into large, loud and sloppy, I cheer you on and look forward to more blogging about how you carry that out.

  31. 31
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    Thanks Lyn, well down here in comments with my skeptical rational peers I’ll tell you one thing I did last night to live life large and sloppy. I laid Workout Girl down naked on the bed with candles and oils and a head cradle, and I rubbed every single muscle on her body, from the tip of her toes to the crown of her head, like a pro RMT. And believe me, the pleasure giving didn’t stop there.

  32. 32
    Pierce R. Butler

    … flirting with night nurses (Oh man, the brains on these gals, I can’t stop talking to them, their science-y minds are so incredibly hot!)*

    A friend recently (e.g., yesterday) informed me that such an orientation is called “sapiosexual”.

    I eagerly await hearing this denounced from pulpits across the land.

    * According to my limited field research, the day nurses are just as foxy that way.

  33. 33
    glentomkins

    Good luck, and some advice on how to live large: http://crooksandliars.com/bluegal-aka-fran/open-thread-494

  34. 34
    margareth

    Good for you! Glad you’re going to recover. I ride my exercise bike hard daily and on nice days, I ride the real one. I’ve always had a very strong heart but I worry about invisible plaque and such. At 52, I still have the heart of an athlete and my blood pressure is in the normal range. Gotta stay active folks. Use it or lose it.

  35. 35
    Randy Williams

    I too suffered a heart attack 10 days ago. Unlike you, I hadn’t been working out like a fiend, and so my attack was accompanied by the well-known squeezing/radiating pain symptoms. Scary as hell, but I’m on the mend – started cardiac rehab this week, back to work next week. Stay strong, DarkSyde.

  36. 36
    mikeinohio

    Wow! Just reading this is putting the fear of The Flying Spaghetti Monster in me to straighten up my own act. I’m about your age. And there is a history of cardiac issues in my family. I used to be in really good shape, but let things lag after suffering a foot injury that resulted in an inability to do the exercises I enjoyed, mainly running and biking. You are making me re-think this whole thing a little bit.

  37. 37
    sphex

    Wow. I am so glad to hear you came through this with flying colors. Yay for large and loud and sloppy.

  38. 38
  39. 39
    dexter

    I’m 35 years old, in November I suffered from a MI in the LAD.. I to am extremely active, I work out 6 to 7 days a week religiously and have for the last 4 years. unfortunately my family genetics and the fact that I had been smoking for 20 years did not help my odds of long life without heart complications!! At 9:30am on a sunday morning while at the gym working out I started having terrible chest pains and shortness of breath, after a few minutes of this I decided I might be in trouble. Long story short, I was life flighted to a major hospital in a nearby city.. Instead of normal protocol where they would get you to the cath lab. they instead took me to CT for imaging, They found a birth defect known as an (Anomalous right coronary artery). running In between the Aorta and pulmonary valve, the doctors attributed the pain I was suffering to the artery being strangled by the valves.. After 7 hours In the ER being pumped full of morphine to deaden the pain, and saying good bye to my wife and three kids, as well as the rest of my family, they performed an ECHO CARDIO and found that the entire left side of my heart was motionless. Finally rushing me to the Cath Lab at 5:00 pm that afternoon, they found a 100% occlusion in the widow maker… after placing a stent, I felt like a brand new man. One month later I had open heart surgery to fix the birth defect. After 10 days I returned to work full time, I was back to the gym in 7 days after surgery doing light cardio and returning to normal routines. within 6 weeks I was back on he mountain snowboarding with my 2 boys!!!

    I can’t imagine why I made it trough this little ordeal, the only thing I could possibly attribute my survival to would be the conditioning I put myself through on a daily basis. I couldn’t say that your theory is correct or not, but I’m a believer!

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