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Monday, May 12, 2014

Recovery update: 12-week edition

By Ted Slowik

Well, hey everyone! Today it's been 12 weeks since my near-fatal heart attack on Feb. 17, and this week is the biggest to date in the recovery process.

On Wednesday (May 14) I see my cardiologist for the first time since March 12. If all goes well, he'll say I'm healthy and strong enough to resume work and other activities. Work needs a letter from the doctor saying I'm good to go, so depending on how smoothly the process goes I could be back at work later this week or early next.

The other option is to go on long-term disability, which I do not want. I forget sometimes how serious my heart attack was, and that my heart sustained an unknown degree of damage. Hopefully, the damage isn't permanent.

Just to recap for those who have been following my progress, in the past 12 weeks I've lost 35 pounds (was 250, now 215, goal is 180), quit smoking cigarettes (for good this time!), incorporated at least an hour of cardio exercise into my daily routine, adopted a much healthier and more nutritional diet, and been faithfully taking statin medication to lower the "bad" cholesterol that runs in my family.

On April 23 I started cario rehab. I go three days a week to a gym with other heart patients (I'm a good 20 years younger than the average participant). We walk on treadmills and ellipticals, pedal stationary bicycles and NuSteps, lift weights, receive nutrition counseling and other fun stuff. They monitor our heart rates and check our blood pressure several times.

I still wear a Zoll LifeVest defibrillator, which would zap me back to life if I should suffer another massive heart attack. I had an echo cardiogram on Friday, May 10. It's a lot like an ultrasound, where they slather a bunch of goo all over your chest and tummy and rub a device that takes pictures of your insides. When I see the cardiologist on Wednesday I hope the results show my ejection fraction is 40 percent or greater. That's the amount of blood pumped by your left ventricle. If that has happened I no longer have to wear the defibrillator, and I won't have to have one surgically implanted.

For a time, the LifeVest was beeping constantly, saying the connections needed to be checked. I'd check the connections and reset the vest then five minutes later it would beep again, so I temporarily stopped wearing it. I called the doctor to let him know.

"Oh no, you've got to wear it. You could drop dead at any moment," the nurse on the phone said.

They listed me as critical status and within hours a friendly Zoll service representative was at my house fitting me with a new LifeVest. Turns out I had lost so much weight the first vest was no longer fitting properly. They set me up with another, smaller vest and it's been fine ever since.

I've done everything I possibly can to make myself healthy and strong enough to handle the stress of work. It's not easy to lose weight AND quit smoking but I've managed to do both. With the new diet and exercise regime, I feel great.

I'm not the first or only American to have lived an unhealthy lifestyle. I ate cheeseburgers and french fries for lunch every day. I smoked a pack of cigarettes every day for 30 years. Americans are conditioned to believe we're free to choose things that are bad for us, that it's our right. That's true, but we're also free to make healthier choices. I now choose the latter.

I have to admit I'm a bit anxious about seeing the doctor this week and the prospect of returning to work soon, but I'm also eager to see my many coworkers again and resume my work responsibilities.

Thanks again for all the kind thoughts, prayers and many messages of support, especially from family whom I've come to love and appreciate more than ever. We all face challenges, and I feel I owe it to you all to be the healthiest, strongest person I can be so you can all give me shit for many years to come.