On the Benefits of Having a Heart Attack


Check that title again… On the Benefits of Having a Heart Attack.

Benefits? WTF?


Yes, really!

For those not aware, I had what an emergency room cardiologist described as a “massive heart attack” back on April 21, 2012. I’ve written about it here, there and pretty much everywhere. I can’t lie, that was one of the shittier days I’ve had, ever.

It wasn’t the thought of death that was the hard part. To be honest, you don’t have a lot of time for clear-headed and cognizant thoughts during the actual heart attack. I do recall being wheeled out of the emergency room to the cardiac cath lab, and telling my wife and kids, “I’ll see you later” when I honestly thought I probably wouldn’t ever see them again. But I was trying to be all tough and stuff. You know, for them. I’ve never really asked any of them what they thought that day, we don’t dwell on it much — far better to dwell on living life every day since then.

And therein my friends, lies the truth. The benefit of having a heart attack. It’s about living. Or more precisely, having a greater appreciation for living.

Now let me just go on the record stating thus — do not, ever, go out and have yourself a full-fledged heart attack, despite all the nifty benefits you’re about to discover. It’s not worth that. Far far better to have a positive life-altering event as opposed to one that stands a 95% chance of killing you. (and before Joe Statman whips out his TI-84+ graphing calculator and proclaims, “Jay Thompson lied, 95% of people that have heart attacks don’t die!” let it be known that the typical survival rate of the type of heart attack I had is 5%. Heart attacks can vary wildly in size, scope and… how they end. But it’s not something you want to jack around with, despite what the odds-makers have to say. Trust me, the best heart attack to have is NO heart attack. So, put down the double cheeseburger and get your ass to the gym.)

But if life deals you a bad card, and you wind up in the hospital facing death, I think it’s OK, good in fact–perhaps even healthy–to have a little “F you” attitude toward the disease that tried to take you down. It’s good to live life fuller. It’s good to look at all the trials and tribulations that life can throw at you and smile, waive them off and just say, “Whatever. Life’s too sweet to sweat the small stuff.” (And it’s too short for bad alliteration. Sorry).

Want to lose 70 pounds? Have a heart attack; it’s a hell of a motivator. When you hear that double-double Animal Style from In-and-Out calling your name, just drag up the imprint of that image; you know the one–the image of your son and daughter’s faces as they wheeled you away to the cath lab.  Remember that last fleeting look into their eyes, and that thought rattling around in your head where you wondered if you would ever see them again. Buh bye double cheeseburger craving!

Don’t feel like exercising one morning?  Just remember the little 105 pound nurse in the cardiac ICU who was able to push you and your 255 pound gut o’ lard from a gurney onto an operating table all the while smiling and telling you that you’re going to be fine. That chick was bad-ass and could probably take me to this day. I’m sure glad SHE worked out.  Or there’s that 85+ year old man in your cardiac rehab class that kicked your ass on the treadmill. We can’t have that!

You know what else is cool about having a heart attack? You get to meet some terrific people. There’s firefighters that save your life. Amazing doctors and nurses. And there’s a group of people, members of the Facebook “Under 55 Heart Attack Survivors” group, that helped me get my head screwed back on straight. These are good people, who share pretty much everything. We laugh, cry, curse and offer virtual hugs. It’s a club no one wants to qualify for, but I for one am sure glad it exists.

Stuck in traffic? Tired of the incessant whining on Facebook? Weary of the vocal minority that seem to take sport in trashing your employer? No problem. Just reflect back to the days post-heart attack. You remember those days. Lying there in the cardiac ICU, wondering if you were going to have another heart attack only with different results this time. Reading about how 19% of people that have a heart attack die within 12 months. Waking up in the morning and rather than the first thought being, “I wonder what today holds in store?” it’s more like, “Well, survived another night without dying in my sleep” (thinking like that can’t possibly be healthy). Looking at your then 18 and 20 year old children and wondering if you’d live to see them graduate, get married, have kids…

Yup, it kind of puts things in perspective.

I wish I’d had the foresight, the motivation, whatever it is to have long ago started to eat better and exercise. But I didn’t have that foresight. I honestly didn’t really think about it. It took almost dying to realize I needed to make some changes in my diet and lifestyle. How about you do me a big HUGE favor? Don’t wait for something like a heart attack to smack you upside the head. Do something, anything, and do it now. Just make one tiny little change. Baby steps. Trust me, life is cool. Very much worth living.

And, if you do nothing else, please read this and  learn the symptoms of a heart attack. They can vary widely. Most are not the chest-clutching drop to your knees in agony type that is displayed in the movies. I know people that have walked around for days in the middle of a heart attack, Others like me are more “lucky” in that it was quite obvious something was very seriously wrong. My cardiologist told me had I waited 20 minutes to dial 911 I would not have survived. Learn the symptoms, and CALL 911 if you suspect anything heart related. Don’t worry about bothering the EMTs or doctors. Don’t think, “What if it’s just indigestion? How embarrassing would that be?” Embarrassing? Maybe. Better than dying? Abso-freaking-lutely. Learn the symptoms, understand every heart attack is different, and call 911 if you’ve got ANY concerns. The life you save may very well be your own.


Photo Credit: Adrian Scottow on Flickr. CC Licensed.


    • Jay Thompson says

      Thanks, Matt. Life’s too short, and can end too swiftly, to let it beat you down. I’m a little bummed it took me 51 years and a heart attack to realize that, but better late than never!

  1. says

    Great article Jay! I remember meeting you in Hollywood Florida & it was truly a pleasure… your spirit is upbeat & proves life is better with experience. Thanks for the positive outlook on what some choose to be less than. Your inspirational!!!

  2. Mike F. says

    Jay, I must have been reliving your experience. I was sitting on an airplane in mid flight when mine started. It was the vision of my two daughters flashing before my eyes that made me get up and alert the flight crew to my little problem. I have talked to the many amazing folks that went the extra two miles to save my life from the flight crew that immediately diverted the flight…had we landed even a minute later I would not be here … To the paramedic and EMTs at the airport who refused to give up on me…I immediately went into cardiac arrest once off the plane and the paramedic who tended to me in the ambulance all the way to the hospital… To the staff at the hospital that acted so quickly and preserved my heart function from serious damage. The Facebook group also has saved my life in some of the darkest moments I have ever experienced. Now two months post, despite all the stresses that try to pull me down life is looking brighter each day. My struggle is not over but but my outlook is much better. Thanks for putting into words what each of us needs to hear.

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