Newsflash: None of us are getting out of this world alive. It is just a matter of how and when we die. Can you decipher the medical shorthand below?

2/5/2016 walked into ED after playing basketball. Chest pain upon exercise and vfib STEMI in ED. Cardiac cath showed LM: NLM; LAD 100% thrombus ostial occlusion. Aspiration thrombectomy and DES placed. D1, CX and RCA are without disease. Placed on balloon pump due to high LV end diastolic pressure.

This is in my medical file. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans – annually responsible for one in every four deaths. 

I’m among the less than one-percenters that survived a full widow-maker heart attack with no deficits e.g. heart damage. I still play aggressive full-court basketball with young guys and have a 65+ mile, six-day backpack planned in the high-elevation back-country of the Northern Rockies coming this August.

A surprising number of medical staff at the hospital asked if I believe in guardian angels. They see the low odds of heart attack survival almost daily. I don’t discount my good fortune but believe that chance favors the prepared. 

I was not prepared to prevent my heart attack but I will remedy that shortcoming. My hope is to inspire you not to die from heart disease.


Given the statistics there is a good chance you know someone closely impacted by heart disease. One of my friends has another person’s heart in his chest. He still works in the safety field. Transplants are amazing. Another friend has had five heart attacks – anyone of which should have killed him. His heart ejection fraction is down now to 15 percent (50 percent and above is normal). He’s sick but not sick enough yet for a heart transplant, although he’s on the list. He continues to work, too.

Awareness must not be superficial. If you want to beat heart disease, put it to good use!

Fighting spirit

My two friends above never shied away from battles. Both played hard football in college. My 15 percent EF friend never lost a football game in his life. People with a weak fighting spirit don’t get heart transplants. People willing to fight continue to work, and live, by choice.

Heart disease prevention requires you to fight conveniences and indulgences. The CDC says 49 percent of Americans have at least one major risk factor (high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking, etc.) for heart disease. 

You beat heart disease by life-style choices. My new daily life-style choices include machines and activities that promote cardiovascular exercise and not just simple exercise.  Bye-bye fast and processed food. If you exercise and diet correctly, excess weight eventually won’t be a problem. It takes will-power to maintain good heart-healthy habits.

Know yourself

I thought I knew me. I was wrong. Feeling healthy doesn’t mean you’re healthy. Outward appearances don’t really tell what going on inside one’s body. Cholesterol; LDL; HDL; LDL/HDL ratio; and, triglycerides are just a few of the body chemistry values that must be known for heart health. I’m willingly being poked, prodded, and tested in a variety of ways to know more about me, even beyond heart health. 

I now know my heart ejection fraction, how much carbon dioxide and dissolved oxygen I use at high physical exercise levels, I endured a DRE (look up the acronym), had an MRI, gave saliva to test DNA and much more. I wear a Fitbit to monitor heart beats. It’s fun getting to know what your body is made of and how it really works. 

Avoid the hospital

Hospitals save lives. But the No. 3 killer of Americans, behind heart disease and cancer, is preventable medical errors. More than 1,000 people die each day from medical errors at an annual national cost nearing $1 trillion dollars.

I went to a world-class hospital for my heart event. The teaching hospital is part of the school where I received my MS in occupational health. I understand the chaos and urgency needed to save my life – hit twice with paddles, rushed to surgery and all that. But whoever attempted the first urinary catheter insertion caused “trauma.” Further insertions, maybe with other helping hands, with different catheters caused a drug-resistant infection. The UTI created bladder stones that require surgical removal. I’m crossing my fingers that further hospital visits don’t create new problems.

Visit your doc

I have rarely been sick in my life. I’ve never had a personal physician – never needed one. No need to fix what isn’t broken. Although I thought I knew a lot about medical issues, particularly prevention of occupational injury or illness, my overconfidence from always feeling good blinded me from reality. In my case, the first sign of heart disease was nearly death.

Placing AEDs in the workplace is just one small step to address heart disease. Heart healthy foods in the cafeteria; support for medical tests; and encouragement, including training, for healthy life-style choices among the workforce and their family are best practices.

EHS pros are health care practitioners. Although our focus is the workplace, injury and illness prevention should be 24-7 everywhere. Individual health and safety are paramount. We can’t help others if we’re incapacitated. We must lead by example. I dropped the ball on that one. Fortunately, as long as we’re alive we can change and set an example.

Join me to prevent and beat heart disease.