Today Please meet Tony.
In the spirit of Heart Month I am sharing stories of fellow Heart Attack Survivors that I have met through The Under 55 Heart Attack Survivors Group on Facebook. Everyone has a story and I hope you will take a read and help us create awareness of the #1 Killer in North America.
Hi, my name is Tony Yip. I’m currently 48 years old and have been living in Calgary, Alberta since the age of 21. I was born and raised in small town Saskatchewan (Canada). I am one of five kids in our family. Like the typical asian family in the rural prairies, my mom and dad ran a little Chinese/Canadian food restaurant. Fried and fatty foods were the norm growing up. In grade five, I remember weighing more than my teacher; I was over 150 lbs.
Being overweight has always been an issue for me growing up. In addition to the health concerns with carrying too much weight, my self esteem took a beating a well. My oldest brother, also overweight, had diabetes, and had passed away from a heart attack at the age of 40. My dad, who was a smoker, had a severe allergic reaction to the latex in the heart lung machine during bypass surgery and passed away as well at the age of 66. These two events were wake up calls for me.
On January 2, 2012, at the urging of my sister, Nancey, I joined Weight Watchers. At 5’9″ tall, I weighed in at 260 lbs. In a year and a half, I lost 100 lbs. What started out as a “diet” for me had become a lifestyle change. I was watching what I was eating, exercising more, and feeling pretty darn good.
On March 20, 2014, I had my heart attack at the age of 47 (weighing in at 160 lbs). A week prior, I had experienced chest pain while curling (a winter sport in Canada). The pain was intermittent; as I exercised more, there was more pain. If I rested, the pain went away. A couple days later, I was participating in a hot yoga class, and the pain began again. I left the yoga class early and met a friend for coffee. While walking to the coffee shop, I experienced more pain. Again, the pain was off and on. Since I live alone, I decided to drive myself to the emergency clinic a few blocks away. The triage staff at the ER clinic assessed me very quickly and did the full battery of blood tests and EKG monitoring. Everything was deemed normal; they sent me home and asked me to follow up with my family doctor. A couple days later, I was walking to a dentist appointment. I experienced pain once again in my chest and had to rest once I arrived at my dentist until the pain subsided. After my dentist appointment, I went over to the medical clinic to explain my symptoms. They suggested my pain may be related to stress, prescribed Ativan, and sent me home.
Two days later, at 4 am in the morning, I woke up with chest pain again. I took the Ativan tablet and waited ten minutes. The pain did not subside, so I drove myself to the ER clinic that I had visited a few days ago. The same triage staff were there again and they recognized me. I said, “it’s me again….It’s probably another false alarm, but since I live alone, I just wanted to get it checked out”. I was whisked away immediately where they went through the routine of hooking me up to the EKG machine again. As soon as the machine started providing the readings, the curtains to my private cubicle flung open and 12 nurses and doctors started to tend to me; it was like a scene from an ER television show. They told me I was having a heart attack, but I didn’t really realize the seriousness of the situation until I heard the doctor telling the nurses to admister morphine. They called an ambulance to take me to the nearest hospital. When I was being prepared by the staff for the ambulance transport, the doctor had asked me if I wanted to be resuscitated should I needed to be. I must have had a stunned look on my face. I fully expected to live through this. My thoughts to myself were….”I can’t die now, I haven’t been in love yet”….. I asked the doctor to repeat the question and I replied “yes, I want to live”.
The cath lab did an incredible job. I was assessed as having 4 blockages: two 50%, one 40%, and a 100% blockage at the RCA. Two stents were used to clear the blockage at the RCA. I was in ICU for 24 hours. Initially after the stents were placed in, I was experiencing A-fib; fortunately, my heart converted back to a normal heart beat on it’s own overnight. I was in the hospital for 5 days….off work for 5 weeks.
I attended cardiac rehabilitation for 12 weeks. I highly recommend taking part in the rehabilitation program. After my incident, I was in constant fear of over-exerting myself and possibly triggering another attack. The cardiac program here allowed me to exercise and determine my limitations while being under constant watch by health care providers. More importantly, I think it’s very important to talk to other heart and stroke survivors about his/her individual stories….you learn from sharing information….much like the “Facebook Under 55” group provides…..
After having a heart incident, you become VERY sensitive to what’s going on in your heart; when you’re healthy, you don’t think about your heart actually functioning. After a heart incident, you feel when you’re more emotionally stressed….you feel when you’ve taken one extra step up a set of stairs…..you feel when you’ve lifted too much….. you feel this directly in your heart. I wanted to know if I was ever going to feel “normal” again. It has almost been a year since my heart attack, and most of the time, I don’t “feel” my heart anymore (and this is a good thing!).
I had my six month appointment with my cardiologist and wanted to share one piece of information that I thought might be useful for heart attack survivors. I asked that if I were to have another heart attack, what would the symptoms feel like?…..The reason for the question, I explained, was that I had my blockage in the RCA…..but if a different artery were to be blocked, would the symptoms be different? He told me that in most cases, the symptoms you experienced during your inital heart attack would be the same symptoms that you would likely experience if you had another episode, regardless of which artery was blocked. Everyone’s symptoms are different, but you will recognize the pain if you feel it again.
If I can offer some words of wisdom having experienced this life changing event:
– if you experience any sort of pain, and YOU think it’s serious…and feel you should go to the hospital, call 911 (call it a feeling of doom….your gut will tell you that it’s serious….don’t ignore your gut instinct)
– don’t wait for a wake up call to change your life for the better (I know…easier said than done)
– don’t only save to live for tomorrow; live for today as well
– express gratitude wherever possible
It may seem kind of ironic that I had my heart attack after having lost 100 lbs, but in the end, if I didn’t lose the weight, perhaps I wouldn’t be here today, sharing my story. In addition to eating healtier, trying to lower my salt and sugar consumption….and exercising more…..I’m also trying to reduce stress by living a kinder, gentler life….and expressing more gratitude.