During one of his daily workouts at the gym, celebrity trainer Bob Harper was about to experience a life-altering and near-fatal event. The fitness freak with a strict diet had a heart attack and cardiac arrest. He was 52 years old. If it hadn’t been for the quick actions of a doctor training at the same time who immediately initiated high-quality CPR, Harper might not be here today. “I woke up in hospital two days later…it was a traumatic time,” the former TV host recalled. During my recent interview (below) with Harper, I asked about his heartbreaking experience, his life today, and shared the story of my own father’s heart attack, which included a multivascular open-heart surgery (coronary bypass).
The stories of Harper and my father are not unique. According to the CDC, 805,000 people in the United States suffer a heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI) each year. Recognition of symptoms is essential. Although Harper did not experience “classic” heart attack symptoms, most people experience one or more of the following symptoms: chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, upper back or neck pain, indigestion, heartburn stomach, nausea or vomiting and extreme tiredness. Women also have different symptoms: nausea and fatigue (versus chest pain) may be the main symptoms, or they may have no symptoms.
Knowing and reducing your risk factors for heart disease can transform your life. Harper agrees: “Information is power. Know your own health, consult your doctor, take care of your health. Cardiologists like Khadijah Breathett, MD, MS, FACC make it a priority to review the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Life’s Simple 7.
“Controlling these seven risk factors can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and heart failure,” says Dr. Breathett, associate professor of medicine at Indiana University Health. “They include regular exercise, eating healthy meals (low fat, low cholesterol, high in vegetables), losing weight to maintain a BMI
Ischemic heart disease, especially a heart attack (or myocardial infarction) is the main cause … [+]
Today, five years after her heart attack, Harper has a renewed sense of purpose. “I’m lucky to be alive,” says the charismatic heart attack survivor. Harper and her Survivors Have Heart community are on a mission to inspire everyone to become certified in CPR. June 1-7e was CPR and AED awareness week, but Harper and I agreed that every day should be CPR and AED day. “People get nervous, they get scared,” described the author and lawyer. “‘Am I going to do something wrong?‘ and I say you won’t do anything wrong. I remind trainees and patients all the time that it’s okay to break a rib or two; you need to get blood flowing from the heart to the brain. Formal CPR training teaches people how to perform high quality CPR.
“Any first responder—from students to adult onlookers to caregivers—can save lives using CPR and AED skills before emergency medical providers arrive on the scene,” describes Ami Bhatt, MD. , FACC, Director of Innovation, American College of Cardiology.
According to Dr. Bhatt, out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest affects more than 300,000 people in the United States each year. Early defibrillation with an AED has the greatest impact on survival. “The national survival rate after sudden cardiac arrest is around 10%, but research shows that survival could be over 70% if an AED is used within three minutes,” says Dr. Bhatt, associate professor at Harvard Medical School.
An exciting future innovation: portable AEDs that could be carried in a purse or backpack are “just around the corner.” Hopefully having easier access and feeling more comfortable with the device will make people more likely to use an AED. In the meantime, Dr. Bhatt reminds us not to be afraid: “The DEA will tell you what to do and you could save a life.”
Dr. Breathett totally agrees. “CPR is easy to learn and can be the difference between life and death for a family member, friend or stranger.” She strongly encourages everyone to enroll in a CPR course through your local AHA chapter, online or in person.
Additionally, Dr. Breathett highlighted a special hands-only program designed by Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Anezi Uzendu to make CPR education more accessible to minority patient populations called Make BLS Basic.
My last question to Harper was what key message he would give to the public. “Get CPR certification. It’s not just for service-oriented people like trainers and flight attendants. It’s for everybody. YOU could be the only person who will change his life!
For his fierce advocacy on heart health, I “awarded” Harper an honorary medical degree: “Dr. Bob Harper – I like that!” Train yourself in the use of CPR and AED – YOU can be an angel saving someone’s life – or someone else can be an angel saving yours.