A boomer dodges the heart attack bullet

Sad to say, it’s a sometimes tragic story but not an unfamiliar one, especially not for baby boomers as we get older. You don’t feel so good … but since you don’t know why, you don’t do anything about it. Which is why, as communications specialist Larry Checco writes from Silver Spring, Maryland, you should pay attention to what your body is telling you. He almost didn’t … and could have paid the price.

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.

Those of you who are regular BoomerCafe readers may recall a piece I wrote in June of this year titled, “On a baby boomer turning age 70.” I mentioned my belief in spontaneous moments of joy, or SMOJs. Well, believe you me, every SMOJ I ever had pales in 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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10 Comments

    1. Thanks, Diane. And, yes, my story is all too familiar. If this story can make just one other person aware of this fact it will have been well worth writing.

  1. Very glad to hear you got through this, Larry. A lot of us must be dealing with this, because yours is the second article on the subject I’ve read this week (the first was by Jane Brody in the New York Times). Knowing the symptoms is vital. You can also get a cardiac calcium scan to assess the level of plaque in and around your heart before things get too far. Take care.

    1. Hey Dave. So nice to hear from you. Our days at AU graduate school seem like a lifetime or two ago. I hope you are well, and thanks for underscoring the importance of being aware of symptoms. Such awareness can be lifesaving, as I now know so well.

    1. Hey Rita, I hope you are well and thanks for your kind words. Heck, I figured that if climbing the Great Wall of China (what a great trip that was, eh?!) didn’t kill me I was good for another few decades. May still be. If nothing else, however, this recent heart episode was a great reminder that life is good–but short! Just how short none of us really knows. So let’s enjoy every minute of it. My best to the Omaha 6.

  2. Larry, happy to hear you are doing well. Great message for everyone to act immediately when your body gives you a signal. Larry and Lucy are surely smiling down on you. Love and best wishes from Port Chester. Joan “Masi” Gargone

    1. Thanks, Joan. I miss Larry and Lucy dearly, but I don’t mind holding off another decade or two before meeting up with them again. My best to you and your family.

  3. Indeed, Larry. There are crocodiles in denial – just waiting to bite. As you know, I plunked myself in the emergency room lately because of your “don’t ignore your bod sermon.” Turn out it was nothing, just a pulled muscle. But I was still glad I went. (you ever considered being in the pulpit? [tee hee ;-)]

    1. John, smart that you followed up on your “body language”, which at our ages takes on a whole new meaning. As for considering the pulpit, I think I’ll just continue to hide here behind my computer screen and keyboard.

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