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How I Dodged The Heart Attack Bullet

I recently had a heart attack.

Yep. Me. Self-proclaimed (now proven delusional) immortal Man of Steel.

He who exercises and walks three miles almost daily. He who, just a week before this possibly fatal event while on vacation, played 18 holes of golf (walking the course, pulling a full bag of clubs), hiked 1,300 feet up a craggy mountain trail, kayaked and then swam across a half-mile lake, and otherwise spared no energy on vacation-type adventures.

Yep. This 70-year-old picture of health had a heart attack about which the docs said, had I not gone to the emergency room as soon as I did, “We might not be having this conversation.”

Larry and his cardiologist, Dr. Peter Sabia.

Before you get bored and stop reading, hear my message: Get to know your body — and listen to it! It can save your life. It did mine.

While I was hospitalized, waiting to have two stents implanted in my arteries, two docs, in separate conversations, said the exact same thing: the most dangerous disease for both men and women is denial.

Heck, I’m too healthy. I’m in too good of shape. It won’t happen to me.

My partial denial started innocuously during my morning exercises. I got through my stretching and weight-bearing routine, but it was a bit of a struggle. I decided to start my three-mile walk anyway.

I got about half a mile into it when I realized it just wasn’t going well. My body was trying to tell me something, but I still wasn’t paying it full attention.

Larry with biker friend John O’Flahavan who also experienced a heart attack.

I decided to cut the walk short and headed home where I went to work on a report due the following week, and wrote some emails, and got into a bit of my Cinderfella routine of straightening out and vacuuming the house while my wife was at work.

I was feeling okay, but not great. I decided to visit a friend in the neighborhood who is dealing with a serious illness. Thought I’d lend some support.

After the visit, when I returned home, it was me needing the support. I couldn’t find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. There was slight tightness in my chest, not a pain, but more a sensation along with some distress in my neck and throat area.

Fortunately I recalled my friend John having had a similar experience. A marathon bike rider, who does 100-mile rides up and down mountains in the American West and in Europe, had a heart attack two years earlier. He and a companion were just about to do a 40-mile “warm-up” ride when he said to his buddy, “I don’t feel right. I know my body. Please take me to the nearest emergency room.”

Sure enough, 58-year-old marathon biker John, of all people, had a heart attack, treated with a stent. Today he looks healthier than ever and is back to marathon biking.

By now, it was late afternoon, and John’s tape was playing in my head. Shortly thereafter, my wife arrived home from work.

Larry with his wife, Laurie.

“Honey, don’t get overly concerned, but could you please take me to the emergency room. I’m just not feeling myself.” She later took issue with me for not having immediately dialed 911— and as always, she was right.

The rest is history, as they say. Three days in the hospital, a 90-minute procedure to implant a couple of stents, a couple of weeks of rest and relaxation, and I plan on getting back to my normal routine of exercising and enjoying my life.

I am a big believer in having spontaneous moments of joy or, as I like to call them, SMOJs. Well, believe you me, every SMOJ I ever had pales to the SMOJs I’m enjoying today.

Life has become even more sharply focused. I’m fortunate to have gotten a second chance, and I hope to use the time well. I hope the same for you.

Know your body— and listen to it. Don’t confuse denial with a river in Egypt.

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About The Author
Larry Checco
Larry Checco
Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and a nationally sought-after speaker and workshop facilitator on leadership, organizational management and branding. He also serves as a consultant to both large and small nonprofit organizations, companies, foundations and government agencies.
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