My fellow airman,
As most you know, I had a heart attack that could have killed me on Thursday morning, August 20th. I was lucky that my wife convinced me to go to the emergency room and the ER Doctor didn't give up when the first tests came back normal. I had 100% blockage of the proximal left anterior descending coronary artery known as the widow maker heart attack. I'm told they usually don't find out about this one until the autopsy and only 10% survive it.
A good pilot always asks what the weather is like at his destination. So he asks someone that just came from there to let him know what it was like. Therefore, I've been asked to share what happened to me. The short answer is. I did a long Leipzig trip and by the time I got home to Dallas I was wore out due to stress, jet lag, and lack of sleep. I got on my elliptical trainer at 8:00 am and went about 10 minutes when I started running out of gas. I went another 10 minutes when the center of my chest started hurting. I told my wife about the chest pains but since it wasn't going down my left arm, like they do in the movies, I wasn't worried about it. Using her best Texas-French she persuaded me to go to the hospital and then proceeded to hit every pot hole between our farm and the hospital. I realized quickly that I had waited too long and couldn't have driven myself and since we live so far out in the country an ambulance would have taken to long.
I don't know anything about heart disease or heart attacks! So, I'm not the one to tell you how NOT to have one. The experts say heart disease is 80% genetics and the "Other Factors" are 20%. What they fail to tell you is when you fill up the 20% part of the bucket you are relying on the 80% genetics to pull you through.
My bucket had several things in it already. Night freight , under-slept, under-exercised, and way overweight. My cardiac phone was ringing off the wall and I was afraid to answer it because they could have taken away my medical. (How stupid is that?) My Mom and Dad had heart attacks earlier in the year and my wife is off work due to breaking her foot on an IND layover with American. When you add the stress of our problem with DHL I’m surprised that I lasted this long.
I went through a divorce when I was a young man and it was tough. I didn't want her to leave me and I did everything I could to keep her. For those of you that have gone through one, you know what I'm talking about. For those of you that haven’t, guess what? You’re going through one right now. That crazy DHL gal moved to ILN and married a ABX guy a few years ago, then got tired of old Joe and us and moved to CVG to look for more boyfriends (ATI, CCI, etc). The bad news is she orphaned about 400 of our kids (not to mention our step-brothers and sisters).
As I laid in ICU the next day I realized the last time I had looked at my benefits package, ASTAR had my wife down as a 54 year old smoker from Boca Raton who was named Lucy. I called them and asked about the mistake, but never followed up to see if they had fixed it. This was a great place to think about that. I won’t mention I don’t have a will.
I'd like to ask all our pilots to look at what happened to me and see if there is anything in here that resembles themselves and correct it. If you don’t have a doctor, get one. The 15 minute, aero medical doc doesn't cut it. Find one that knows what he is doing. If you’re fat, try Nutri-system. If you smoke, stop it! If you don’t exercise, try walking, or yoga. Find out the signs of a heart attack and the signs of a stroke. Make sure your estate is going where it should. Learn how to reduce stress and find a hobby that will allow you to enjoy your day off.
In the past I would reach for an extra beer and a chicken leg for stress relief and you can see how that worked for me. I called it “Eat to Forget!” We as ALPA members have so many resources available to us it's really stupid not to use them. The ALPA Aero-medical people can tell you what's needed to get back into shape and keep your medical. The Critical Incident Response Program CIRP is way under used and there are 22 people that you can talk to about stress and stress relief. If you need to stop smoking, lose weight or learn to reduce stress you can call these people and they will get you the help you need. All you have to do is look them up from our ALPA. ORG web site.
My heart attack was just like our DC-8s, they've been broke so long we don't know what NORMAL is anymore. I don't want any of you to go through what I did. And, I don't want anyone of you to give "Lucy" anything.
I want to thank everyone for sending me the flowers, cards, e-mails and phone calls wishing me well. There were a lot of pilots that I have never even heard of asking if I needed any help. It shows you the quality and integrity of this pilot group. If you really want to help me, then please get yourself checked out with a doctor and learn how to handle the stress that has crept up on all of us.
douglas mitchell dc-8 f/o
ASTAR Pilot's Log 090809-Taking Care of Yourself-A Follow Up to 'Reflections'