Steve George and Fireman

Men's Health, News | 5 months ago

Healthy, Active 54-Year-Old Survives Cardiac Episode: Here’s His Message to Other Men

When 54-year-old Steve George started having chest pain, a heart attack wasn’t anywhere on his radar. Steve regularly took bootcamp classes, lifted weights, mainly ate heart-healthy foods and maintained a healthy weight. But when he went into cardiac arrest, his life changed forever.

Steve George, 54, leads a healthy, active life, working out regularly and eating healthy foods. Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, started like any other day for Steve. He took his dog for a two-mile walk and then lifted weights in his garage. As he prepped a salad for lunch, he noticed tightness in his chest.

He joked to his wife that it felt like he was having a heart attack, because having a cardiac event wasn’t even on his radar, given his healthy lifestyle. Steve chalked it up to muscle tightness from his recent workout and went upstairs to his home office for a call.

About an hour and a half later, his wife heard a thud on the floor upstairs. Knowing Steve had mentioned tightness in his chest earlier in the day, she rushed upstairs and found him on the floor gasping for air. She immediately called 911. At that point, Steve stopped breathing and the 911 operator walked her through chest compressions until EMS arrived six minutes later. The first responders confirmed Steve had no pulse while his wife continued chest compressions, then they restarted his heart with an automated external defibrillator (AED).  

“Steve’s situation is rare,” says Rachel Field, an exercise physiologist at Atrium Health Pineville Cardiac Rehabilitation. “Out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, unless cared for immediately like his, are hard to survive.”

Steve was airlifted to Atrium Health Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. His medical team identified that the circumflex artery in his heart was 100% blocked, which led to a heart attack and cardiac arrest. His interventional cardiologist, Dr. Glen Kowalchuk, placed two stents to open up Steve’s artery.

“The Atrium Health team and Dr. Kowalchuk were fantastic,” Steve says. “They were candid with me — I didn’t want them to sugarcoat anything.”

Steve’s family history of heart disease

While Steve maintains a healthy weight, has never smoked, exercises regularly and eats healthy foods, his strong family history of heart disease put him at significant risk.

“I knew I had some family history of heart disease,” says Steve. “My maternal grandfather died of a heart attack at age 40. My maternal grandmother has also had a heart attack and my mom’s sister has had two heart attacks.”

Recovery with cardiac rehabilitation

Steve started cardiac rehabilitation on Oct. 30, 2023, almost a month after his heart attack and cardiac arrest. He started with two days per week and has worked his way up to three days per week.  Steve on a treadmill

“It was clear his recovery was going to be unusual,” says Field. “He had been doing bootcamp classes prior to his cardiac arrest and he expressed interest in being able to do everything he did before. He was able to progress to regular jogging on the treadmill and, with guidance from our team regarding intensity and heart rate training, has been doing great. He even plans to run the Cupid’s Cup 5K this year to celebrate his recovery.”

A New Perspective on Life

Steve is grateful for his second chance at life. He’s even met with the first responders who saved his life and occasionally sees them around town.

His experience has been a wake-up call for his friends and neighbors to care for their heart health.

“I can’t tell you how many guys I know who have gotten their heart health checked with their doctors,” Steve says. “I’m a typical guy who doesn’t go to the doctor often if I don’t have to. But as we get older, it’s important for men to understand their family history and lifestyle choices that affect their heart health.”

Steve also encourages people to get CPR training and know the warning signs of a heart attack.

“If it wasn’t for the 911 operator who walked my wife through CPR and kept her focused, it could have been a different outcome,” Steve says.

Heart attack warning signs include:

  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Neck, back or jaw pain
  • Arm or shoulder discomfort or pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling faint, light-headed or weak
  • Cold sweat
  • Nausea or vomiting 

If you or someone you know has these warning signs, call 911 immediately. 

Learn more about heart care at Atrium Health Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute.