July 31, 2019

Surviving My Heart Attack

The 27-7-19 marks my 1 year anniversary of my heart attack. The most significant health event of my life; one which I wished I never had, but so very grateful that I am one of the lucky ones to still be here and of course be able to ‘tell the story!’

One year on, I’d like to share 3 invaluable lessons since that fearful night, the highs & lows, in the hope that it encourages others to take a more proactive approach to not only their health, but life itself.

LESSON 1 – Share Your Story.

Unless you have been through it, it’s hard to express all the mixed emotions you deal with post a life-threatening event. I was extremely grateful I had survived – especially that it happened in the first week into our Greek holiday and I didn’t want to miss out on the rest! Lol! But in all seriousness, I did feel at times ‘embarrassed’ that it happened to me & in the following days of recovery in the hospital ICU I was feeling at times ‘very sorry’ for myself.

Had I neglected my health that much? I believed that this only happens to other people; the ones that are unhealthy, overweight, eat too much & the wrong foods, don’t exercise, too much stress, drink & smoke etc etc. I felt embarrassed that I was possibly in that ‘unhealthy lifestyle’ category.

Why would I want to share this story with the world then? Shouldn’t we just keep it private and deal with it personally?

The answer is no. There is no shame in whatever happens to us. In fact, everything in life happens ‘for us’, not ‘to us.’ If we really care about others, want to make a positive impact to other people’s lives, our trials and tribulations are what the world is seeking from us. Those inspirational moments that can change peoples lives – even if it is just one person!

I wrote a blog post detailing the lead up to the heart attack & the moments following. Since writing it, thousands of people have read it. It is quite surreal that so many have heeded the message, had health checks and in all probability avoided the same fate – and possibly saved some people’s lives.

(Click on this link for the original blog post )

Writing about it also helped me to put things into true perspective. It helped me gain my confidence back, realize that it was just a road bump along the journey of life. It helped me find the good that such things tend to highlight and amplify.

LESSON 2 – Don’t Second Guess Your Health.

I thought I was proactive when it came to my health. Annual checkups at the GP; watched my diet & exercise. Took vitamins every day. By no means was I a health fanatic but definitely thought I was in the ‘healthy’ range. The last thing I thought would happen to me was a heart attack – that only happens to ‘other’ people!

Maybe I was naive about it all – certainly not absolutely top of mind. And there is no guarantee that even had I been even more proactive, that I would have been able to avoid the event. Sometimes it’s just a roll of the dice and I accept that and the last thing anyone must do is become a hypochondriac.

But this is what my cardiologist said whilst I was on the operating table (I was asking him a whole bunch of questions before he operated, I was basically ‘pissed’ it was happening to me and he wanted to put a stop to my let’s say ‘unappreciative state!’) “Manos, had you had this whilst on the plane on the way from Melbourne to Athens, or had you been two hours late, we more than likely would not have met.” Ouch! It was his way of saying, it doesn’t matter the ‘what if’s’ – calm down, let’s get through this. ( I think what he really wanted to say was, “suck it up princess your friggin alive!”).

More importantly, and the main lesson, following the procedure he said to me that because I lived a healthy life and I was healthy at the time of the attack, I was not only able to survive it, but make a very speedy and full recovery.

So my advice to everyone. Get regular checkups – not just your GP visits. Insist that your GP books you in for extensive checks from bloods, cardiograms, stress tests, ultrasounds and so on. We sometimes take more care & spend more money servicing our automobiles than our own bodies! Take a proactive approach.

Two things will happen when you do. If your health is not on track, it will motivate you to get on track. If you are on track, it will keep you on track AND should something show up, you can address and avoid more difficult complications later. Following and being healthy is by no means a guarantee that bad things won’t happen to you – but it will most definitely increase your chances of beating and recovering from such events.

Many people I speak to avoid making the effort. It’s like somehow deep down they ‘don’t want to find out’ just in case something is wrong. Not a very logical mindset to have – make the time and put the effort into it. Your future self will thank you for it!

LESSON 3 – Love What You Do, and Whom You Do It With

There’s nothing like a heart attack (especially when you have one overseas on a magical island like Crete!) to give you some perspective on life, the things we have done, the things we haven’t done, the things we are currently doing and things we want to do.

And whilst I took 4-6 weeks of recovery at our holiday home in Crete, reflecting on our life, I was feeling especially blessed & grateful.

You see, many people following my health scare asked ‘will you be slowing down now,’ ‘re-evaluating priorities,’ ‘stop working so hard’ etc – you get the picture. Of course all those questions and suggestions were put to me and I did put thought into them. And the truthful answer was no. I wasn’t going to change anything. If anything I was going to go harder.

I was 53 years old at the time. Maria and I have been together for over 32 years- raised two amazing boys (now men!) We’ve had the same challenges as everyone else. Worked very very hard throughout our lives. But all in all – we’ve lived and continue to live a fairytale life.

We love what we do, and whom we do it with. We’ve made it that way!

If I didn’t feel that way, and answered the above questions ‘your right, I gotta change directions’ it would have been quite sad that it would have taken a heart attack to bring me to that conclusion.

And that’s what I want to encourage everyone to find. Love in their work, a true purpose as to why they are doing it. Love the people you are with, both family & as importantly work. I’m not saying it’s all ‘kumbaya’ at every moment. But gee whizz – we are all going to die one day – some tragically too soon, some at a very old age. Why work or be with someone you don’t really want to be with or do work you love & find joy in?

I think the biggest challenge most people have is they don’t know what they want. I guarantee you, once you do, everything changes. And I mean everything! (I guess that’s why we love our ‘Follow Your Dreams Conference’ in Crete so much – where we uncover and dive deep into living a full and happy life & yes, unashamedly it’s a plug for ourselves & we encourage everyone to attend. More on that in another post!)

IN CONCLUSION:

There are many many more lessons from this fateful day in 2018. In the last 12 months I’m happy to say I’ve made a full recovery; but it hasn’t been easy. In business, it’s been one of the most challenging. In life, we lost our Dad four months ago at the age of 85. In more recent weeks, tragedy struck unexpectedly and we lost one of long term team members at the age of 44. In the prime of her life, she was taken just too early. And I’m sure many have experienced the same, some more so than others. But life and the day to day stuff we do, just goes on. That will never change.

So perhaps the best way to sum up the key to life is wisdom from the movie Shawshank Redemption (one of my all time favorites) when Andy Dufresne said to his fellow inmate Red: “Life comes down to a simple choice: You’re either busy living or busy dying.” It isn’t just a quote from a movie, its advice for all of us.

Thank you for reading this somewhat long post Facebook friends. To my amazing kids George Jordan & Kosta I am so so proud of you both – I tear up just thinking of this day 12 months ago with you guys next to me. What a year it has been. To my extended family & my work colleagues, a very special thank you for helping me get through the year that was.

To my best friend, cousin and business partners Arthur & Mary Proios. We couldn’t have had the year we just had without your love and support. You have been with us on this journey every step of the way, when others have bailed. You’ve been there in all the ups and downs, the fun moments and tragic moments. I sincerely hope everyone has an ‘Arthur & Mary’ in their lives!

Last but not least. I’m here because of Maria’s driving skills that fateful night! Ha ha! You’re the love of my life; I couldn’t have asked anyone better to have been on this adventure with.

Have a Happy & Fun Week Everyone:)