Why I'm Glad My Heart Stopped Working
People always ask me if I remember being dead. But the detail everyone wants to know is also the time I am unable to remember ... because I was actually ... you know ... dead. However, what is actually most interesting is how becoming the world’s only known three-time sudden cardiac death survivor changed me—how my thinking changed, how my relationships changed, how my approach to my work changed, and how I made a conscious decision to live a life dedicated to full potential.
It was a normal Monday: October 4, 2004. I trained a few clients and met up with a longtime friend to do a workout in the early evening. I got a phone call from my then girlfriend to come to her house for dinner. Never one to pass on a good home-cooked meal, I headed to the Hillsboro Village area of Nashville, located just a few blocks from Vanderbilt University.
As dinner concluded, we decided we would search the Internet for a good place to vacation for Christmas. As I sat at the computer desk, my vision suddenly began to go dark, my head hurt sharply, and I said, “Whoa!” I fell on the floor gasping for air, and then I was gone. No breathing. No pulse. No movement. Dead.
Within about 30 seconds, I was revived again. No rhyme or reason; I just came back. As it turns out, this would only be sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) #1. When I regained consciousness, something wasn’t right. I went to the bathroom to splash water on my face, and as I walked out of the bathroom, I stopped and held on to the doorway and thought, I am going to faint. I hit the floor as the last bit of consciousness drained from my vision.
Luckily, we were three blocks from Vanderbilt Medical, and I was rushed to the ER. Later than night, I would wake up in intensive care, experience my third and final SCA, be defibrillated some 10-plus times, then slip into a coma.
When I finally woke from the coma on Day 3, it was determined that I had sustained three separate sudden cardiac arrests in a three-hour period. Different from a heart attack, SCA is an electrical rhythm malfunction of the heart that causes it to stop completely. Yet no one could find anything wrong with my heart or replicate the arrest in cardio electrophysiology tests. Eventually, the experts determined that I would have to be implanted with an internal cardio defibrillation device that would shock me and keep me alive in case I were ever to have another SCA. When questioned on the likelihood of a recurrence, the doctor told me that less than 5 percent of SCA victims survive a single occurrence and that he could not find any evidence of anyone anywhere who had survived three SCAs.
I am happy to report that after 11 years and 6 months, I have not had any recurrences of SCA. What I have had is a complete shift in how I view life and how I relate to the people I train.
In the immediate months following my SCA, I experienced a 180 in how I thought about the people I trained. I had been a trainer for over 10 years at that point, and during that time I had developed a very successful results-based reputation for being a “tough love” type of trainer who accepted no excuses. While I still do not believe in excuses, I realized that prior to my own health concerns, I had never truly listened to the underlying tones of people’s reasons why they were failing to make their health a priority. I realized that we are all on a journey to get to a place where we can love who we are, inside and out. While some of us might be there in one particular facet, others may actually be more advanced than those of us who seem to have it together physically.
This realization made me change my approach. I began to get people talking about what they really loved about themselves, and I asked them how they felt when they talked about themselves positively. I got them to see that success was about balancing their lives in all areas—the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial portions.
When my approach changed to helping people achieve their full potential, I found that I also began feeling more positive about growth and my own life. How could this be? I had just died three times! But I was helping people in a deeper way than I ever had before ... and it felt GOOOOD! I began taking actions that made me happy. I wanted to go on a vacation? I went. I wanted to go to a concert? I went. I wanted to try a new fancy restaurant? I did it. I began actually seeking out opportunities that enhanced the richness of my life. I found the more I looked, the more opportunities appeared.
I realized I wanted my story to go in a different direction from where it had been before my SCAs. Ultimately, I couldn’t stop dreaming about living at the beach. I decided I would move to Los Angeles and expand my training business in the fitness capital of the world. I researched where I would live, what gym I would work out at, and what roads I would take to get where I needed to go. I even bought a map of the city and posted it on my wall so I could start to memorize the major roads. Then one day, I said my desires out loud to the right person and their response was exactly the encouragement I needed to hear: “I can help make that happen for you if that is what you really want to do. Just say the word.” And without hesitation, in that moment I knew this was it, so I said, “YES!” The next two months were a blur, but by December 2006, I had a training business in Los Angeles and was living literally 20 feet from the sand on Manhattan Beach.
This story and its realizations don’t mean that life hasn't been without bumps and bruises along the way, but the bottom line is had I not been faced with my own mortality, I would’ve never realized I was responsible for my own happiness. Had I not changed my path, I wouldn’t have developed my business in LA, met the people I did, or be writing this article as one of the top 10 trainers in the nation, chosen to be on NBC’s new fitness competition series, Strong, which airs this month and is produced by Sylvester Stallone.
I have always believed your thoughts change your words, your words change your feelings, your feelings change your actions, and your actions define the habits that create your reality. Key take-away here? Be a watcher of your thoughts. They will define you.
NBC’s STRONG premiers on April 13 at 9 p.m. ET with two episodes airing back-to-back. The show follows trainer/trainee teams who compete in mental and physical strength challenges for a $500,000 cash prize.