Skip to content

Heart Disease Health Center

Font Size

Thriving After 2 Heart Attacks

WebMD community member Paul Imhoff survived 2 heart attacks -- and learned to live life anew after each one.
By Paul Imhoff
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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.

Recommended Related to Heart Disease

What Is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis -- hardening and narrowing of the arteries -- gets a lot of bad press but with good reason. This progressive process silently and slowly blocks arteries, putting blood flow at risk. Atherosclerosis is the usual cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease -- what together are called "cardiovascular disease." Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in America, with more than 800,000 deaths in 2005. How does atherosclerosis develop? Who gets it, and...

Read the What Is Atherosclerosis? article > >

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 write.

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.

Today on WebMD

x-ray of human heart
A visual guide.
atrial fibrillation
Symptoms and causes.
heart rate graph
10 things to never do.
heart rate
Get the facts.
empty football helmet
red wine
eating blueberries
Simple Steps to Lower Cholesterol
Inside A Heart Attack
Omega 3 Sources
Salt Shockers
lowering blood pressure