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

    The Dangers of High Cholesterol

    When Ramona Richman's older sister was diagnosed with high cholesterol, Richman wasn't worried about her own risk. The San Francisco Bay Area stay-at-home mom had her weight under control and assumed that her diet was healthy. So when her doctor broke the news that she, too, had high cholesterol, she was shocked. Her reading of 269 mg/dL was well over the desirable level of less than 200 mg/dL. "My sister had high cholesterol and went on medication, so I imagine that it's a genetic thing," Richman,...

    Read the The Dangers of High Cholesterol 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