February 13, 2019

So You Want to Have a Heart Attack?

The recipe for Randy Scott’s heart attack was simple: addiction to stress, work overload, and not enough work-life balance. Sound familiar? 

This is the life mixture many working professionals consume daily. What’s the worst part? When a heart attack happened to him at the ripe young age of 49, Scott was slapped with the fact that it was all avoidable. He shares the story of his heart attack hoping to inspire men of all ages to put their health first.

On a Monday morning in August 2004, 49-year-old Scott was rushed to the emergency room at the Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, California, United States. At first, when he had chest pain that morning, he had been in denial. He thought to himself that he was a director in the health-care industry, and this couldn’t be happening to him. Tests confirmed, however, that he had a blockage in one of the main arteries to his heart and required a stent placement. 

“I was really depressed after I survived,” Scott says. “I knew my life was not over, but the way I used to live was.”

This statement makes Scott, now 63, tear up when he reflects on his story. Although he was on top of the world before the heart event, his lifestyle is what caught up to him. At age 40 he had risen to executive director and soon would oversee a handful of health-care departments.

“I was one who always liked to get things done,” Scott says. “I was really great at strategy, so I was placed over several departments little by little.”

What he wasn’t ready for was the stress that came with the many titles. He slowly became immune to it as, he says, most working people do. 

"The adrenaline rush that came with the success, the stress and everything else, my body got hooked on it, and I kept saying yes to more and more things," Scott remembers.

Day of Pain and Reckoning

The addiction would not last for much longer. Now, almost three decades after his first promotion, Scott says he remembers sitting up in bed with his wife and saying, "What have I done?" His leadership had him working every day around the clock. Two years before his cardiac event he had stopped exercising, started eating poorly, and hardly slept because constant phone calls in the middle of the night were the norm.

It was the perfect concoction that he says he knew better than to drink. And when that August morning came, full of massive chest pain and shooting pain up his arm, he knew his luck had run out.

But he still hadn't quite learned his lesson. The day after his surgery, his colleagues were gathered in his room talking business, and a nurse had to shoo them out after she saw his heart rate and blood pressure start to rise; Scott's addiction blinded him from even noticing. The blinders finally came off weeks after his surgery when depression set in, and an unlikely invitation from his niece to go on a cruise jumpstarted his evolution.

The cruise forced him into days of silence and no interruptions. That is when Scott was finally able to see how stressed he was — only when he was faced with no stress at all. After the trip, he called in to resign. Now he urges men to learn these things he wishes he could have told his younger self:

1. Make healthy career choices. Scott says money and titles mean nothing if they compromise your health. He says you do not always have to leave a position; learn to balance it. However, if your job does not afford you the opportunity of balance then resign. 

2. Keep active, even if you think you’re healthy. Two years before his cardiac event, Scott says he took a cardio stress test and passed it with flying colors. Because of the results, he didn't think it was a big deal later when he quit his exercise routine. Never stop working out, he advises.

3. Watch your food intake. A balanced diet matters. What you put in affects your body. 

Scott also encourages people to look for external help. “Therapy and partnering with someone to get back on your feet can help,” he said.

The original version of this story was posted on the Loma Linda University Health news site.