How to Avoid a Heart Attack: Survivor tells his story and lessons learned

Heart attack survivor John Chestnut

John Chestnut with his wife, Patty, a few months after his near-fatal heart attack

John Chestnut of Redford, MI was only 52 when he almost died from a heart attack.  Here, he tells his story in his own words, including the lesson he learned and wants you to know about.

A day he won’t soon forget

On November 1, 2011, at approximately 4:15 a.m., I was downstairs watching TV, having a cup of coffee and playing with the dog—a typical weekday morning before work. I went upstairs, got a refill on my coffee and used the bathroom. There, I began to feel chest pain and pressure, like an elephant sitting on my chest. I started having the cold sweats. I went into the kitchen and sat down, thinking I was coming down with a bad cold or the flu. After sitting for a couple of minutes, I could tell it was serious, so I woke Patty, my wife, and told her. She immediately knew what was wrong when she saw me sweating and extremely pale. Patty told me to lie down on the bed while she called 9-1-1. She returned and gave me three baby aspirin and said, “Take these and lie still.”

Redford Township Fire Department EMS arrived within five minutes. Due to the layout of my front porch, the paramedics could not bring their stretcher into the house. However, they helped me out of the house, got me onto the stretcher and into the ambulance. They delivered me to Botsford Hospital’s Emergency & Trauma Center within five minutes.

Dr. Mark Rasak, Cardiologist at Botsford Hospital

Dr. Mark Rasak, the cardiologist at Botsford Hospital who helped care for Mr. Chestnut

I do not remember much of what happened in Botsford’s ER, but Patty recalls Dr. Mark Rasak’s prompt response. He’s a cardiologist.

Within two hours, I was recovering in the intensive care unit (ICU) after having two lifesaving stents placed in Botsford’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab. One artery was 100 percent blocked; the other 90 percent blocked. My care in Botsford’s ICU was excellent. I especially remember the care I received there from my nurse Laurie Winstrand.


After three days in the ICU, I was released. I continued taking my new medications, and I changed my diet. Not two weeks later though, I had to have three more stents placed in my arteries. Soon after the second hospital stay, I began Botsford Hospital’s Cardiac Rehab program. Instead of going back to work on December 27, I did rehab for five weeks, finishing on January 25. I returned to my full-time job on January 26.

Lessons learned

In retrospect, I should have seen the warning signs. Not only had I experienced chest pains in the past, but I also have a family history of heart disease and heart attacks on my Dad’s side. A voluntary health screening at work showed I had high cholesterol. These symptoms should have been enough to get me to make an appointment with a doctor, but like many people, I was afraid of seeing a doctor, being in a hospital and finding out bad news.

This whole experience has changed my lifestyle with respect to diet and exercise. After cardiac rehab, Patty and I both joined a gym. I try to work out three to four times a week.

How you can help avoid a heart attack:
Courtesy: the American Heart Association

  1. Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke
  2. Find out if you have high blood pressure, and get it treated if you do
  3. Eat foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and salt
  4. Be physically active
  5. Keep your weight under control
  6. Get regular medical check-ups
  7. Take your prescribed medications
  8. If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar under control

Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and the specific things you should do to help prevent a heart attack.  If you don’t have one, find a Botsford doctor here.  You can also learn more about cardiology services at Botsford Hospital.

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