November 22nd 2012 began like any other day for Mark Lyons, twenty year employee at Integram Windsor Seating. He did a morning workout at the gym, ate breakfast and got ready for work. But then his life changed forever.
It began with a sudden feeling of exhaustion. He mistakenly attributed the growing pain in chest to indigestion and tried to walk it off. When his shoulder began to ache and his arm went numb, Mark’s wife suggested he was having a heart attack. Ridiculous, he thought. I’m too young, too fit. Yvonne, a former nurse, trusted her instincts and called the paramedics. After spending five days in ICU, an angiogram revealed a tear in his artery. Miraculously, the blow-out had begun to heal itself, so surgical intervention wasn’t needed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in every 4 deaths in the United States is attributed to heart disease. Contrary to popular belief, heart disease isn’t one condition but a group of conditions that can affect the structure and function of the heart. Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, diabetes, excessive alcohol use, and physical inactivity.
None of which Mark Lyons had.
Until that fateful day, he had been feeling great. He worked out regularly, kept to a generally healthy diet and had no family history of heart disease, no trouble with his blood pressure or cholesterol. His friends and family were shocked. There was no way that Mark, one of the fittest people they knew, could have had a heart attack.
Mark’s family, including Yvonne, their three children and five grandchildren, stood by him in the days, weeks and months to come, doing everything to make his recovery as easy as possible. He admits the process was tough. He had to be careful not to take any blows to the chest and was restricted to lifting amounts under five pounds. “I couldn’t lift my own grandchildren,” he says.
Both the American Heart Association and Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation stress the importance of cardiac rehabilitation, a program of exercise, education and counselling. A cardiac rehab team is generally made up of professionals who work together to improve your physical and emotional health and may include a physician, exercise physiologist, nurse, occupational therapist, dietitian, or psychologist. This team of experts help patients regain their strength and independence and overcome anxieties and fears.
“The specialists were all very supportive. I could call them at any time, ask all the questions I needed to,” Mark says. “But a lot of it comes down to you. I wanted to get stronger and fitter.”
He continues to go to the gym, but has had to curtail heavy weights in favor of cardio, like walking or bicycling. He had always eaten fairly healthy, but now avoids packaged and processed foods, tracks his sodium intake, avoids pop and passes on fast food. “Life is short,” he says. “I don’t stress about stupid stuff anymore and when someone asks how I’m doing, I say, ‘I woke up today, I feel great!’”
In May 2014, Mark Lyons, along with forty-eight of his colleagues at Windsor Integram Seating, took part in the Heart Breaker Challenge, a 5km mud and obstacle event that raised funds for the Cardiac Wellness & Pulmonary Rehab Centre . “They helped me out for six months,” Mark says. “This is my way of paying them back.”