Fitness expert and physical therapist Ivan was the picture of health – but an avalanche of stress triggered a life-threatening heart attack. Could you be at risk for death by stress?
“My life was what most people would strive for,” says Ivan. He was a successful businessman, owned his own home, and was happily married with a young family at home. However, in the course of 12 months “Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong.” Both one of his businesses and he personally faced lawsuits. At the same time, his wife had an extramarital affair and became pregnant.
“On an ordinary Friday evening, I felt some indigestion,” Ivan relates. When he woke up the next morning, he was experiencing a sense of impending doom and felt short of breath, with pain under his breastbone. When the urgent care center began an EKG, they told him immediately, “You’re having a heart attack!”
“I was petrified,” he says, “I thought I was near death.” Ivan was rushed to a nearby hospital for an emergency angioplasty.
It was a wake-up call for Ivan. “I thought at the time I epitomized what wellness was. I ate very well, I exercised very often.” And his cardiologists told him that his arteries were clean and his blood profile was healthy – “They attributed this anomaly to stress.”
Today Ivan joins The Doctors. “I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been,” he says. “It makes you realize that true, optimal wellness goes well beyond diet and exercise.”
Cardiologist Dr. Tara Narula agrees. “Stress is a terrible thing. And as Ivan mentioned, we more and more are screening for that as part of our discussion with our patients, as a risk factor.”
She explains that stress can precipitate a typical heart attack, where plaque in an artery ruptures – but it can also cause stress-induced cardiomyopathy, or “broken heart syndrome.” “You have an acute emotional stressor and that causes a sudden weakening of the heart muscle.”
ER Physician Dr. Travis Stork wonders how to deliver bad news about stress without stressing patients further. “I always tell my patients, you need to find at least 10, 15, 20 minutes a day where you do something for YOU,” Dr. Narula replies. “It turns off the body’s stress response.” It can be yoga, meditation, or exercise – whatever works for each person.
Ivan has written a book about his experience. Titled “Courage to Continue” by Dr. Ivan Hernandez, it's currently in stores and will be available as an ebook later this month.