I had my first heart attack 26 years ago, when I was 52. I was very active
then, sometimes jogging and often walking long distances. But I was also on the
congressional staff in Washington, and the day leading up to the attack was
even more hectic than usual. My boss was introducing major legislation, and I
had crafted an important floor speech. I didn’t have time for regular meals and
ate a huge cheeseburger for dinner, then smoked three or four cigarettes.
It happened about 3 in the morning. I awoke to severe pain in both arms, and
felt like two elephants were perched atop a broomstick pressing into my chest.
The ambulance ride to the hospital seemed brief, but I really don’t know how
long it lasted. I can only recall that I was in a quiet panic, mumbling my last
prayers before I went “poof,” yet still hoping I would wake up in this world. I
did -- in an intensive care unit, extremely tired, weak, and disoriented.
Most people know that cardiovascular disease can run in families -- that if you have a family history of heart disease, you may be at greater risk for heart attack, stroke, and other heart problems. But how much does family history affect your heart health? What parts of the family tree are most important? And what can you do about it?
Eventually, I went home and after a yearlong effort, I was able to kick my
30-year smoking habit. All was well until 15 years later when I had a second
heart attack. But this time it was different. The pain was mild. I was simply
short of breath and sweating. My wife recognized this as symptomatic of a heart
attack. She insisted I go to the hospital, where the doctors told me my heart
had suffered major damage. Two weeks later I was released with a stack of
prescriptions and advice to see my doctor often.
Then, just last year, I found I couldn’t get through the day without a nap.
I didn’t have the energy to mow the lawn, do fix-up jobs around the house, or
spend time with my grandchildren. I had started a novel, but I couldn’t even
My cardiologist told me my heart function was at about 35% capacity in
comparison to a healthy heart. He suggested a defibrillator implant. On his
advice, I visited another cardiologist who specialized in these devices. The
implant he wanted to give me is called an ICD, or implantable cardioverter
defibrillator, a device designed to monitor for abnormal heart rhythms.