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 the battle against atherosclerosis, the stakes remain high. Scientists
have made exciting medical advances, but the disease persists as a leading
cause of illness and death in the United States. This year alone,
atherosclerosis will contribute to about 1.2 million heart attacks among
“While we have very good therapies and tests to identify the disease and
predict the risk, none of them is perfect,” says Stephen Nicholls, MBBS
(bachelor of medicine/surgery), PhD, clinical director...
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.
There is always a risk with any surgery, and I was apprehensive. The very
thought of this one, where the doctor cuts into your chest, inserts a gadget,
and attaches wires from it to the vessels that lead to your heart, was
traumatic in itself. But then I was told I would be the first person in the
United States to get this particular model. Wow! I sure felt special, but the
downside was that there weren’t any testimonials or reports about how well (or
badly) it functioned. “I sure hope it works,” I thought.
Well, so far it has. I can mow the lawn and do chores again. My wife says
she has her husband back and that I really should start writing again. I have
renewed energy but also -- and most important -- I have hope.