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.
In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our September 2011 issue, we gave a reader's question about preventing heart disease to James Beckerman, MD, WebMD's heart health expert.
Q : Heart disease runs in my family. What can I really do now to help prevent it?
A : Cut out these five things to greatly reduce your risk:
Smoking (or hanging around with smokers). Smoking is the most dangerous -- yet most reversible...
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.