Surviving A Widowmaker Heart Attack

October 14th, 2016 I woke up around 3am with the worst chest pain I've ever had.


The second I sat up, it went away.


"That's odd." I remember thinking. I got up and walked downstairs to get some water. I felt fine and thought it was just something oddball and perhaps even something I was dreaming about. I walked back upstairs and went back to sleep.


An hour later I woke up with the exact same thing. This time it took a few seconds after I sat up for the pain to subside.


I decided it had to be connected to the chest/sinus infection I was getting over. I got up and went downstairs, turned on the news and started my coffee. I ate a bowl of cereal and sat on the couch until 8am when a friend of mine who happens to be a cardiologist gets into his office.


I called and we spoke and he suggested I come in for a visit at 10:30am.


I waited around until around 9am and then got up, took a shower, and got ready to drive down to his office.


I had planned on driving myself but my wife insisted she drive me. Luckily she had the day off. I felt fine as we got into her car and started the 45 minute drive down the coast from Santa Barbara to Ventura where my doctor friend's office was.


A little background info on me....

Above is a photo I shot of myself on my daily (yes - I said daily) bike ride - a week before my heart attack. Above is a photo I shot of myself on my daily (yes - I said daily) bike ride - a week before my heart attack.


I was 46 years old with no history of previous heart issues. I exercised daily, was at my ideal weight (185lbs - I'm 6'2" tall). I had a BMI of 19 and in almost every comparison made against other males my age - I was in superior physical condition.


Back to my car ride to the cardiologist's office - half way there I experienced a full-blown heart attack. No mistaking what it was.


It felt like everything in my chest - from front-to-back - all the way across my chest (side-to-side) was being crushed. I was freezing yet I was sweating buckets (diaphoresis). My heart rate was all over the place. And both of my hands and wrists were numb and tingling.


I should note that I didn't have back pain, pain down my left arm, or pain in my jaw.


My wife, who has law enforcement training, got me to the hospital in record time. I got evaluated quickly and was immediately prepped for surgery and wheeled into the Cardiac Cath Lab.

LAD - Left Anterior Descending Coronary Artery - The Widowmaker.LAD - Left Anterior Descending Coronary Artery - The Widowmaker.


"STENT""STENT"




CCU (Intensive Care of Heart Patients)CCU (Intensive Care of Heart Patients)


MAYMAY


The fact is that 9 out of 10 people (90%) who have a Widowmaker DO NOT SURVIVE IT.


The other 10% usually - almost always - have some form of permanent heart damage. When you deprive the heart of oxygen for any time over 3 minutes - cellular death occurs. Heart tissue does not grow back. If it dies - it stays dead.


I was told over and over that I was going to have heart damage and only time would tell how much/how severe that damage was going to be.


My surgeon did, however, note something odd about my heart. He knew I was athletic and that I obviously worked out on a regular basis. He said that I had the "largest right coronary artery he'd ever seen" and that it had grown "collateral branches over to the left side of my heart".


This means that the blockage in my LAD had been there a long time. Long enough for my heart to grow additional blood pathways so that my left side of my heart could get enough blood during my daily cycling workouts. This happens over a very long time.

After 6 days I was sent home with a bunch of medications and strict instructions - rest and do not let your heart rate get up above 90 beats per minute.


The reason that a lot of heart attack patients die after their heart attack - sometimes weeks or months later is caused by an arrhythmia - where your heart stops beating correctly because the damaged tissue and the healthy tissue get out of sync.


I was given meds to greatly slow my heart rate down - because your heart can only heal between beats - so the idea is to allow more time between beats.


I basically laid on my couch or in my bed for a month and read as much as I could about heart disease and CAD - Coronary Artery Disease - the condition I have.


CAD is the #1 cause of death world wide. It is the #1 cause of permanent early disability in adults world-wide. 1 in 3 deaths is caused by CAD. And CAD affects all ethnicities, both sexes, and all socio-economic groups. It is a scary thing.


CAD is especially scary in that you cannot look at a person's exterior and know if they have it or not. Look at me! I didn't have ANY of the risk factors for CAD that you normally think of...


I am not sedentary, overweight, have a bad diet, I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't eat fried foods or fast food or any of it. Except one minor but all too important risk factor... my family. The men in my family die young (younger than the average life expectancy of males in my country) from heart disease. They die in their 50's and 60's. But I was pretty sure I'd beat this family curse because in every instance they were smokers or drinkers or overweight and sedentary. Not me!!!


And I'm the YOUNGEST of them all to have a heart attack!!!


One month later I go in for my 2nd Echocardiogram - to see how well my heart has healed and how bad the damage was - and I got a shock...

The doctor walked into the exam room after the test with the most bewildered and confused look on his face. I knew this was going to be bad...


"I can't tell that you've had a heart attack."


Wait... what? Did he just say what I thought he said????


"Your heart is perfectly normal - actually - it's beating a little better than what I'd expect for someone your age."


I was floored.


"You didn't dodge a bullet - you dodged a missile while running through a mine field."


I'll never forget those words.


All this time - for the better part of 20 years - I thought that cycling was going to shield me from heart disease. And I was wrong. In doing research - if you are born into a family that passes the heart disease genes down - you are still going to develop plaques in your blood vessels.


Cycling couldn't prevent that. What cycling could do - and DID do - is prepare me for survival and recovery.


I am alive because of my life-long love affair with the bicycle.

I was given the go head to start cycling again. By June I was cycling longer, faster, and harder than ever.


I July I became an Ambassador for Eagle Bicycles - a USA custom frame, wheel, and component manufacturer. They custom built a bicycle for me and I decided to share my story with the World - in hopes of saving lives.


Summit4CAD - Cyclists Against Coronary Artery Disease was born.


Soon I had other sponsors such as Rotor Bike Components, Smith Sport Optics, and Scicon Bike Bags.


And I had a goal - to become the first Widowmaker Survivor to cycle from the surf to the summit of Mt. Haleakala in Maui, Hawaii.

Haleakala is the longest continual paved uphill cycling course in the World. It is the most difficult paved cycling course in the USA. And it's just an epic bucket-list bike ride.


I trained and worked hard and 1 year and 14 days after my heart attack - I conquered Haleakala!

From ocean level in Paia to 10,023ft at the summit - it took me 4 hours and 39 minutes to finish the ride.


It was no simple, easy ride... Haleakala is a challenge that only those who have trained and are mentally ready can master.


I want to share this story with you in the hopes that you have paid attention to what I've said...


Heart disease - CAD - can affect anyone. You may have it. If anyone in your immediate family (Mother, Father, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles) - anyone related to you by blood - if anyone in your family has CAD there's a much greater chance that you do as well.


There are many things you can look for - I'll add more cards about the symptoms, risk factors, etc... You need to check this out - because trust me - your life may be at stake.

3 weeks ago I did something that the majority of Widowmaker survivors will never be able to do. The odds are that if you have a Widowmaker next week you won't survive it. If you do - you may be permanently disabled or require a heart transplant to survive.


The MAJORITY of heart attack survivors will NOT be as lucky as I have been. So DO NOT TAKE CHANCES - if you have any of the major risk factors for heart disease talk with your doctor and see about getting screened.


Please take the time to visit my website - www.summit4cad.org for more information.


Thank you for taking the time to read this story and hey!!!! Go ride a bicycle!!!!!

I'm a director of photography (cinema), commercial illustrator, & Nikon Professional Photographer. I'm the Founder of Summit4CAD.org - Cyclists Against Coronary Artery Disease.
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