Healing after a heart attack / Joe Nathan’s Column

You are reading this thanks to a great team that probably saved my life.

Joe Nathan

I had a heart attack on July 4.

Having learned a few things over the last week about life and death, I thought I’d pass them on to you.

First, you may have read about the signs of heart attack. They include sudden strong pain in your chest and a lot of pressure in your chest accompanied by sweating and being light-headed. If you are not very familiar with these warning signs, I strongly encourage you to read up on them. I did not have all of them, but I had several.

Like many other men, I’m not eager to go to the doctor. But my wonderful wife had encouraged me to pay attention to danger signs.

I was home alone when my chest suddenly felt a lot of pressure; I began sweating and felt light-headed. (Unlike some others, I did not feel any pain.) But I figured that I’d better check.

So I called Health Partners. It took less than a minute for someone to answer and less than another minute for them to put a nurse on the line. She listened and gave me directions that probably saved my life. She calmly directed me: “Immediately after we finish, call 911 and then take four baby aspirin.”

So I called 911, and paramedics were at our house in less than five minutes. They immediately gave me some medicine and had me at United Hospital in less than 10 minutes.

Within the next hour, great nurses and doctors conducted a test, found that one of my main arteries was 99 percent blocked and put in a stent. This probably also saved my life.

Of course I’m deeply grateful to Health Partners, St. Paul Fire (that responds to 911 calls) and many great United Hospital doctors and nurses. I also have to mention some combination of God and luck.

Twenty-four hours before I had the heart attack, my wife and I were slightly lost in the beautiful Superior National Forest of northeastern Minnesota. We were driving from Grand Marais to Biwabik (where we were staying) and decided to use what appeared to be a shortcut. We were on some dirt roads in magnificent country. But the roads didn’t go exactly where we anticipated. So we were lost for a little while in the middle of lakes and forest. It is incredibly beautiful.

But if that heart attack had happened there, you probably would not be reading this. It would have taken quite a while to get out and to a hospital. I probably would be dead.

You can’t plan where you’ll be when you have a heart attack. But you can take a careful look at your diet.

I’ve learned a lot about diet in the last few days and am making many changes. I plan to write about that in a forthcoming column.

Parents and grandparents might want to spend time this summer looking carefully at what they and their children eat. According to the Center for Disease Control, diet has a huge impact on heart disease (learn more at http://1.usa.gov/1pz0zxh) and heart problems are “the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States” (visit http://1.usa.gov/1e6VDtP for more statistics).

Health Partners, 911, St. Paul paramedics, and United doctors and nurses saved my life. Please consider how my experience, and medical research, can help you live longer.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome, please comment below.