Moving Forward as a Heart Attack Survivor

By Bob Harper, health and fitness expert, best-selling author and heart attack survivor 

A heart attack can happen to anyone, and I’m living proof. As a health and fitness expert, I dedicated my life to helping others live a healthier lifestyle, but even my devotion to fitness couldn’t keep a heart attack from striking me.

I suffered a heart attack in February 2017 in the middle of a workout. I was so lucky that there was a doctor in the gym. I fell into cardiac arrest and had to be shocked three times by an automated external defibrillator (AED) device to re-start my heart. I woke up in the hospital two days later, dumbfounded by what had happened. I spent an emotional and upsetting eight days in the hospital coming to terms with my new reality.

Surviving with heart

Since my heart attack, I learned to adjust my lifestyle to help reduce my risk of suffering another one, and I’ve been doing all I can to help educate fellow survivors about reducing their risk in the future.

Being a heart attack survivor adds you to a club you never wanted to join, but once you are a part of it, you feel bonded by the experience. As survivors, we carry each other and together, we can make a meaningful difference in raising awareness on how to navigate this complex journey.

That’s why I’m partnering with AstraZeneca on Survivors Have Heart to help to educate patients who have had a heart attack about the importance of working with their healthcare provider and staying committed to the treatment and lifestyle plan prescribed by their doctor.

Bob’s 6 survivor basics

Survivors Have Heart gives me a chance to practice what I preach, including my 6 Survivor Basics that have helped me on my journey this past year.

  1. ASK FOR HELP: You don’t have to navigate your journey alone. Rely on your doctors, nurses and your family and friends for support, clarity and direction.
  2. BE AN ACTIVE SURVIVOR: Take an active role in and complete your cardiac rehab as prescribed by your doctor. This is an important step in getting back to exercise. It takes time to get back into the swing of exercise and the key is to start in moderation and listen to the guidance of your doctor. Discuss with your doctor first steps like walking, yoga or some light activities.
  3. CLEAN UP YOUR EATING HABITS: Changing your diet is a process and it has to be a behavior change. I switched up to more of a Mediterranean diet, focusing more on meals that include fewer fats, and more plant-based foods. I cut out red meat, added Greek yogurt and eat seafood dishes to get my protein. Talk to your doctor about which diet may work best for you.
  4. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY: There were signs I inevitably missed in the weeks prior to my heart attack. I know now to listen to my body and to take action and seek answers with urgency in order to keep up with my journey. Just because you look healthy on the outside, doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk of another heart attack. Listen to those triggers in your body that are putting up red flags, know your family history and practice my “6 Survivor Basics.” Don’t ever be afraid to speak up to your doctor, it can be all the difference in your survival.
  5. BREATHE: Stress and emotions play a huge role in your journey. You have to commit yourself to reducing your stress levels, while navigating your emotions. As a person who meditates, I have taken on transcendental meditation. It’s a great stress reliever for me. You have to find what works for you, but take those moments to take a break, recharge and breathe.
  6. LISTEN TO YOUR HEALTHCARE TEAM: I’m a firm believer that my journey can only be accomplished if I’m working in collaboration with my doctor and healthcare team. We have aligned on a treatment plan and I know that I should stick with my prescribed treatment for as long as my doctor tells me to. The chances of having another heart attack are significant if you’ve already had one, and a treatment plan is an important part of your journey. It’s important to listen to your doctors and their guidance.

Bob’s survivor philosophy

As I’ve rebuilt the relationship with my heart, I’ve also had to adjust my mindset and consider this my philosophy for life post heart attack.

  • MOVE FORWARD: Having a heart attack isn’t a reason to give up, but to MOVE forward. It’s a second chance, so pay it forward and get back into the game of life.
  • FORGIVE YOURSELF: It’s difficult for many to come to terms with the fact that your body “failed you” in some way. You feel like your heart gave up on you, so it’s about learning to trust your heart again and trusting your body. I had to forgive myself and my heart in order to move on. Forgive yourself, there are things beyond your control, but your recovery and your road to a healthier life is in your hands. If you can forgive, I believe you can take the next steps.
  • BE HERE NOW: I wear a bracelet that reminds me of this every day. It’s my memento following my event. You can’t predict the future, you can’t control everything, but you can enjoy the second chance life has given you. I’ve been called a walking miracle, and I take that seriously. For me, it’s a new lease on life, more time to relax, more time to be there with those I love, and to take every moment and be present.

I want to share my commitment to living in the now. If you have suffered a recent heart attack, talk to your doctor today about treatment strategies that are right for you. Be sure to stop back in the near future where additional heart attack survivor stories will be shared.