On August, 27, one year and two weeks after my heart attack, my younger brother Mike had one too. He is 32. While we all knew we inherited this risk, none of us really believed it would happen. Better to just consider my heart attack some kind of freakish, one-time event; that just made more sense.

But then this happened.

Here’s Mike’s story, in his own words. I’m so glad he wanted to share it.

Mike’s family in 2011, ready to run the Fergus Falls Half Marathon and 5K.

This just happened.

Many of you have already heard some portion of this story, but still have some questions. Others have asked how I am doing and so this also serves as an update for anyone interested in knowing.

Here is what went down.

On Monday August 27, around 9:30 a.m., I called my doctor to see if I should make an appointment. I had been having some chest-shoulder-neck pain for a few days and it seemed to be getting progressively worse. I was going leaving on vacation on Wednesday; if it was an infection I should probably get that taken care of. I also called my chiropractor, in case my doctor visit was bust and I needed an adjustment instead.

Little did I know.

I went back to work with my symptoms coming and going but gaining in strength and duration. By 10:30 I was officially starting to get worried, so I drove myself to the clinic for my appointment and walked myself into the Internal Medicine waiting room. By this time I was really in it — chest pain, arm pain, sweating, shortness of breath — the whole nine yards. Bad enough that on the way I started praying but could not think straight enough to pray for anything specific so I went with the Lord’s Prayer over and over. I arrived at the clinic, parked the van, went to the desk, and calmly announced that I was here to see Dr. Bjork at 11 and that I was having chest pains and needed to sit down.

And then it got fun.

The nurses had me in the exam room in about 10 seconds. Flag number 1. (Well, number 2 or 3 or 4 if you count the symptoms, but I wasn’t.) Off with the shirt, lay down, on with the EKG. I caught the EKG nurse reading the tape and nodding to nurse #2. Not a good sign and I said as much. Out the door goes EKG nurse, seconds later in comes my doctor with the EKG in hand. He doesn’t look very happy. There are no words, just a couple quick listens and then he informs me I have won a trip across the hospital to the emergency room because I get to take a ride to Fargo.

Then it got really exciting.

Nurses, doctors, lab people, admitting staff, EMTs, seemingly the entire Lake Region Hospital staff descended on me. Needles, IVs, blood pressure, anything, and everything seemed to be happening at once. The ER doctor confirms that I will need to go to Fargo immediately. Someone asks me to sign a release form (first of many). And they start pumping me with who knows what and prep me for the ride. At this point I have never been in so much pain (aside from being shot with a Taser. But that’s another story).

At this point I realized someone should probably call my wife and let her know what’s going on. (I hadn’t mentioned any of this to her yet. She had no idea.)

“Um, could somebody call my wife please? Oh, and I know you probably hear this all the time but, try not to freak her out, OK? Thanks.”

More tests, poking, prodding, morphine, “how’s the pain now,” blood pressure, nitroglycerin.

My wife arrived. She looked awesome.

Yes, my brother runs marathons too. Yes, he was training for one this year.
And yes, Beth always looks that good.

“Hi honey,” I said. She looked around and began to cry.

“No. Nope. You can’t do that right now. If you start I will lose it completely,” I said. She was, as usual, amazing and pulled herself together. Crying will come later.

We loaded up for our trip. Beth rode in the front seat; I got the sweet bed in the back. The EMTs are good, friendly, and capable. One of them, the driver, is a high school classmate. He chatted with Beth and made her feel better. I tried to hold my breath and not move until we get to Fargo. I was very happy to go to Fargo where the “experts and equipment” are. However I was not cool with this ambulance ride thing. It seemed completely counter-intuitive to me to leave the place with medical equipment and doctors to get in the back of a cargo van for an hour-long ride.

“What happens if I croak in route? ” I thought. “I am sure the EMT guy is really good but what does he know about what is happening to me? The doctors at the hospital in Fergus don’t even feel qualified to work on me so what he going to do?”

Thankfully the hour-long trip to Fargo only took half that in an ambulance. The EMT was great and I had time to think and pray. After my initial repetition of the Lord’s Prayer, I followed up with some basic prayers of forgiveness.

I finally thought: “I might die. I could really actually die.”

It was a strange thought, to say the least. It kind of snuck up on me. Unlike the quick panic associated with near car crash or some other sudden event where there is a shot of fear, then a rush of adrenaline, this came around much slower and more matter-of-fact than I would expect. I was not afraid. I felt “OK” with this concept. Then I prayed for my wife and my children. With all those bases covered I paused and thought of my kids some more.

Now I thought “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die for them.” They should have their father to help them grow up, to teach them to ski, to take them to soccer, to walk them down the aisle, to pray with them, to tell them about their Heavenly Father. I want to live, for them. So I began to pray. “Please don’t take me today. Not today, Father, please.” Over and over. Matter of fact. Simple request. No deals, no promises, no lies. Just please.

Apparently He heard me (and countless others) because I didn’t die. Instead I made it to Sanford Hospital in Fargo in record time and no other problems, except for the ridiculous pain in my chest. I was wheeled out of the ambulance and straight to the “cath lab.” Beth had to say goodbye and wait in the waiting room. She was be joined by Willis, my step-grandfather, who is the perfect rock solid “sit silently next to you and make you feel better by doing nothing” type.

Then it got super cool and super exciting.

In the operating room there were a dozen people flying around doing all kinds of technical and surgical type things.

Off the gurney and on the table. Check.

“Please sign here,” said one nurse. It’s a waiver that says I was dying and they were released to do whatever they could to save me, even though there might be side effects to what they do, including death.

Seriously? Awesome. Sign me up. Check.

Then we went into overdrive. First, the super pain killers. Ahhh, that’s better. Next a big dose of this tremendous “anti-anxiety” med that puts you in a “hey man, whatever is cool with me” funk. It was cool with me. Check.

As they got going it was clear these people knew what they are doing. This made me feel good. One kind-sounding doctor explained that I was having a heart attack (interestingly she was the first one to actually SAY that out loud) and what they are going to do about it (half of which was already done) and before I knew it my shoes and pants were off and two sites are prepped and ready to go. Check.

The first step was an angiogram to see what’s going on. From there they inserted a stent to open my clogged artery. (If you don’t know, both these procedures involve threading a wire into an artery in your arm or leg and weaving its way all the way into your heart. Freaking cool. Doubling up the cool factor was that I got to watch it all go down on a screen.) Luckily for me they were able to go through my arm, drastically reducing recovery time. The only uncool thing is they strap your arms down to the table in a layout creepily similar to a lethal injection set-up. But remember those anti-anxiety meds? I do. They were awesome.

It got a little fuzzy for me after that. I know I was in the operating room for about 45 minutes but I can only recall maybe 10 minutes on the long end. What I do know (from being told) is that everything went smoothly. I had a 100 percent block in my right coronary artery, which they fixed with a stent. A stent, for the uninitiated, is basically a tiny wire “reverse” Chinese finger trap that springs open and works like rebar in your artery, holding it open. They also found two other partially blocked arteries (one 50 percent and one 30 percent ). They won’t do anything about them until they are 80 percent or more blocked so those went on the wait-and-see list. The next thing I knew I was in my ICU recovery room. It was 1:30 p.m.

So that was my day.

9:30 a.m. – Called and made an 11:00 a.m. appointment with my doctor to get checked out

10:30 a.m. – Drove myself to the clinic and walked into the internal medicine waiting room.

1:30 p.m. – Wheeled into my recovery room in Fargo with a shiny new stent in my heart.

And now I am a heart attack survivor. Check.

Well, shit.

 After the Fergus Falls Half Marathon. This year. Like in June. 

See, told you Beth always looks that good.

 

Comments

  1. Deborah Skadberg says:

    I cried and I laughed and I love you! I agree, Beth does look good, and so do you. Thank you, my sweet Jenny Wren, for sharing Mike’s story. I love you, too!

  2. I’m so glad I stumbled upon one of your sisters tweets the other day since I now I follow every heart assoc. known to man. I am also 32 and had a heart attack in August 2012- thinking I was having extreme back spasms. I’m 5’4″, 130 lbs, non-smoker, not diabetic, low BP & cholesterol and yet I had 100% blockage in my LAD – or the “widow-maker” as I was told it was also called. According to textbooks and every single physician that looks at me as if he has seen a ghost –I should not be here. I’m thankful and humbled to be one of God’s miracles. I, too, prayed “not yet, Lord” – not even fully realizing what I was praying. I, too, have a stent. I, too, remember seeing the nurses nod to each other after viewing my EKG. I, too, am a survivor.
    So thankful you and your sister are other young survivors who can share their stories and help promote and edicate others on healthy living.
    Thank you.

    • Andrea,

      I’m so glad you found us! And so glad you are okay. Please keep in touch. Meeting other survivors or people affected by heart disease is what keeps me going.
      Take care!
      Jen

  3. I cried.
    I laughed.
    I thanked God that he let us keep you.

  4. aunt beth says:

    Love and prayers to you and your family! Your story is written so well and should bring awareness to many to never consider themselves too young for a heart attack! Both you and Jen, you are inspirational for your courage and faith to experience such trauma and move forward with gratitude for the excellent care you received and the chance to live a healthy life for a very long time!

  5. Jonathan Edwards says:

    Loved the story. I can relate to some of it. I had a heart attack last year at the age of 32. Glad your still around.

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