Forty-eight year old Dave Ferguson woke up in the middle of the night alone in his hotel room, drenched in sweat and feeling the incredible intensity of an elephant sitting on his chest. He knew he was having a heart attack. Paralyzed by fear and the crushing pain and pressure, he couldn’t even reach for the phone sitting on his nightstand.
“I’m a Christian but I became more of a Christian that night,” Dave said while recalling that he prayed hard, made lots of promises and asked for forgiveness and a second chance to live.
For almost an hour, he laid alone in the dark praying and enduring the worst pain of his life.
“I remember the pain stopping, catching my breath, and somehow falling back to sleep. When my alarm went off the next morning, I got up, took a shower and went to work at my conference event downstairs. I felt like I had a bad bruise on my chest and kept sweating. But I didn’t tell anyone what happened.”
Dave is an executive coach, speaker, and author. During the time of his heart attack three years ago, he lived a stressful life of unending travel and work that often lasted 12 hours or more a day and included weekends. Although he exercised, he ate a poor diet.
While standing in front of the hotel elevator that evening after dinner with clients, cold fear struck him. He needed to talk to his colleague and mentor at the conference to tell him what happened the night before.
His mentor told him to go straight to the hospital. Dave, still in denial, went to Urgent Care instead. Minutes after arriving, they diagnosed him with a heart attack and called an ambulance.
The hospital emergency room doctor ordered a host of new tests. Afterwards, he told Dave that he had a heart attack, maybe even two, but with minor damage to the heart.
“The doctor thought stress caused the heart attack,” Dave said.
Unlike the typical heart attack caused by a blockage in one of the heart’s main arteries, the emergency room doctor could find no evidence of a blockage requiring a stent or emergency surgery. Instead he suggested that a coronary artery spasm cut off blood flow to the heart muscle, causing Dave’s heart attack.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a coronary artery spasm is “a temporary tightening of the muscles in the wall of one of the arteries that supplies blood flow to the heart muscle.” Unlike typical angina or heart attacks, spasms usually occur at rest. In addition to risk factors such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, they can be triggered by extreme stress, smoking, use of drug stimulants, and exposure to cold.
True to his workaholic tendencies at the time, Dave defied the doctor’s order to stay overnight in the hospital or see a hospital cardiologist for an additional workup. Instead, he checked himself out of the hospital and went back to work at his event the next morning, planning to meet a friend and cardiologist a day later following his 10-hour drive home.
Today Dave is a different man. He believes God gave him a second chance to live.
“I looked at my life and simplified it, removing anything that created stress. I eat for life and do high-intensity cardio workouts six days a week. I won’t schedule work that interferes with my personal routine. I also sold most of my real estate properties and live debt-free.”
According to Dave, the bigger story here is for middle-age men and women who need to make changes to their life right now before it’s too late. A predominant way of thinking is that heart attacks are going to happen to everyone but your self.
“As an executive coach, I’m a change agent but I can’t make changes for my clients. It’s the same scenario for middle-age men and women who don’t take their cardiovascular health seriously.”
Dave calls Hilton Head Island a “healthy community.” The tennis courts and miles of beaches, bike trails and golf courses encourage good health habits.
“I’m as healthy as I was in my 20’s!”