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Tales from the Heart: I Thought I Was as Healthy as an Ox

February 21st, 2012 - By Lari Robling

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Caption: Gene J. and his wife Cindy

That’s what Gene J. used to say, “I’m as healthy as an ox.”

The day before he suffered a heart attack, cardiac arrest and an aneurism he had gone on a 25 mile bike hike with a friend. The next day, while he was mowing the lawn preparing to go in vacation, he suddenly felt palpitations and sweaty.

Gene J. went into the house where he experienced the classic symptoms — an elephant on his chest and tingling down one arm. Fortunately, his then teen-age daughter was there to call 911 and she had the good sense to go next door and get help from a neighbor who was a nurse. In all probability that saved his life as she was able to administer aspirin before the ambulance arrived. Even then, the medics had to restart his heart on the way to the hospital. The healthy ox had severe blockage of his left main coronary artery (often called the “widow maker”) and required a seven hour surgery to reconstruct a large part of his heart.

That was eight years ago and Gene J. took his recovery seriously. He learned to let go of stressful tasks such as turning the chore of paying bills over to his wife. Gene J. also knew he had to forego the pizza, steaks and nightly ice cream. Not everyone in the family was ready to jump on board, so he had his own shelf in the kitchen pantry stocked with grains, whole wheat and an emphasis on healthy salads. The rest of the family eventually joined in and now there is one healthy pantry and exercise bikes for everybody.

“Even the dogs are losing weight now,” laughs Gene J.

Despite a recent diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, Gene J. says he is feeling and looking the best he ever has. This has led him to a new mission – advocacy for the American Heart Association. Today, he works to promote the Pennsylvania No Smoking campaign and the removal of sodas from schools. He is passionate about passage of Senate Bill 351, The Good Samaritan Law, which would prohibit anyone suing a by-stander using an automated external defibrillator. Gene J. is also headed to the White House as an invited participant in the Community Leader’s Briefing on Cardio-Vascular Disease. The ox is still going strong!

For support concerning open heart surgery visit:
WebMD® Heart Disease Community
Open Heart Surgery Survivors “The Zipper Club”

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