Today I introduce you to Chad Miller. Survivor at age 39.
I had my heart attack on August 3rd, 2012 at the age of 39. I am a runner who has completed many half and full marathons in my lifetime and was on a 7 mile run at the YMCA after work on a Friday night. The run was an easy pace one and I was not pushing myself very hard at all. About half way through my run, I noticed I was sweating more than normal and had pain in my right shoulder. I am very in tune to my own body and thought both of those were odd. However, I dismissed them as nothing very important and continued running another mile or so. About a mile later I noticed my pain was increasing greatly in my shoulder and I was short on breath. I still did not think much of this, but realized that was “just one of those days” where my body was not in the mood for a run and decided to hit the showers. I was planning on meeting a friend of mine to go see a movie and would get a longer run in later in the weekend instead. During my shower I realized a few things: 1. I was still sweating heavily 2. I could not catch my breath 3. My shoulder hurt like hell and was starting to move slightly into the right side of my chest. Now I was concerned. My pain was increasing, but I was far from miserable. I hopped in my car and decided to head toward the theater for the movie. Along the way my pain vastly started to increase. Something was wrong. Very wrong. My mind started running the words heart attack in it. Surely that was not what was happening. I was a fit, healthy young runner who ate a pretty clean diet. I stopped at a convenience store and bought a four pack of Bayer aspirin. I chewed them up and drove myself to the ER.
Something was wrong, but I was not sure what it was. When I got the ER I was in pretty bad shape. I was light headed, sweating and my pain was very uncomfortable. It was6:30 on a Friday and for some reason the waiting room was already packed full with people needing to see a doctor. The gal told me to take a seat and wait for my name to be called. I firmly said “No!”. I am in pain, something is very wrong, the pain is now in my chest and I need to be seen now. The gal just stared at me clueless. However, another nurse was walking by, heard what I said and immediately took me into the ER. I was hooked up to an EKG, was told I was having a heart attack and wheeled into another room to be prepped for surgery. All hell broke loose in the prep room. I had 15+ doctors, nurses and others giving me their full attention. I was stripped naked, needles were inserted my arms, was given pills to swallow, pills to chew up and one gal even began shaving my groin area. I was asked endless questions mostly dealing with when did I first notice the symptoms. I can’t say my memory of all of this was the best. I was in shock. How on earth was this happening to me? I have friends that eat buckets of friend chicken nightly that have never had a heart attack. Why is this happening to me? Surgery was almost a complete blur. I was lucky that a heart doctor was on duty and free within 10 minutes of getting to the ER. I remember being packed with ice up and down my body. The surgery was very brief, or at least that’s how I remember it. One stent was put into my left ventricle. I had just survived the widow maker (with a 93% death rate within the first hour) I was told.
I was in the hospital the next several days and there was nothing very remarkable about this time. My story is probably no different than anybody elses while in the hospital. I was sad, mad, confused, happy to be alive, embarrassed and about any other emotion I could have. The time between my first symptom while running to surgery was right at one hour we later calculated. The doctor on call that weekend was a real downer of a guy. He told me I likely had extensive damage and my entire life would now be different. He also said I would never run again. Needless to say, I was absolutely terrified of everything he told me.
I spent my days surfing the internet on heart attacks and eventually found the Heart Attack Survivors group that weekend. I am one of the originals in there. I believe I was like the 55th person to join in the group that is now over 1500 people. Back in those days, the group was small and we all really got to know each other very well. My story of being a young athlete with a heart attack was new to the group. I asked dozens and was also asked dozens of questions. The group was awesome and I lived on that message board group for several months to follow.
I met with the surgeon who put the stent in a week after my heart attack. I had spent the last week of my life being convinced I was greatly damaged based on conversations with the doctor on call that weekend. My surgeon (a true heart doctor cardiologist) assured me that was all incorrect. He said my heart attack had been a mild one. I had very minimal plaque in my heart and my heart attack was caused by a small fatty deposit rupture. His exact words were “your heart was kind of a fluke”, He said I would need testing to confirm it, but he expected no permanent damage. He also said it was his opinion that it would be unlikely I would have another heart attack until I was much older. I later did a number of tests EKG, Echocardiogram, stress test etc to confirm that was all correct. I have an ejection fraction rate of 60 and ended up with no damage at all from my heart attack.
All the news I received after my heart attack was good news. However, for the next 2-3 months I went into true depression. I cried almost constantly and convinced myself I was going to die soon and would never see my daughters grow up. Every minor twinge of pain in my body had me convinced I was going to have another heart attack. I went to cardio rehab and I was the youngest person there by 30+ years. It was not uncommon for me to cry while walking on the treadmill at rehab. Physically I was fine, but mentally I was crumbling. Looking back, I should have been on antidepressants during this stretch probably. Then one night I watched my favorite movie of all time Shawshank Redemption for like the 50th time again. The phrase “get busy living or get busy dying” stuck in my head the next few days. What the hell was wrong with me? I was wasting my life away and had been given a second chance at life. To put it simply, I was wasting my second chance God had given me.
Suddenly I was embarrassed with my behavior. It was time to get my shit together again. I was almost done with cardio rehab and went in the next day and announced I was running that day on the treadmill after they had already hooked me up to the sensors for my walk on the treadmill. The nurses looked at my panicked and told me the hospital does not allow running for cardio rehab patients. I ignored them and started cranking up the speed. It was time to go for a one mile run. I will admit I was freaking terrified during that run. The nurses ran off to get a doctor and the doctor and nurses all watched a bunch of monitors feeding information from the sensors hooked up to me during that mile. I took a relaxed pace, but I ran and they could not do a thing in the world to stop me. At the end of my mile they said all was good and I was now graduated from rehab. I expected them to be mad, but they laughed and said I was now the first person in the hospitals history to run while in cardio rehab.
My doctor had already given me the all clear to run again and off I went in the weeks that followed. . For the next week I did several 1 milers. The following week I did 1.5 milers. I soon ran a 5k. Shortly after I ran a 10k. And then 163 days after my heart attack, I finished a half marathon. I have finished a pile of half marathons since my heart attack, but am not longer sure I have the desire to do a full again. Maybe someday.