Don't Pass the Chips -- or the Snow Shovel

(Julia Ewan - Twp)
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By John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 19, 2008

For the first month or so after my heart attack (at age 38, no family history, no obvious risk factors apart from being a man), I left the light on at night and cried myself to sleep. Having been startled by my own mortality -- the inevitability of it, the unfairness of it -- I was certain I was going to kick it at any moment. Never had the sound of my own heartbeat been so simultaneously reassuring and horrifying.

But the things I learned in rehab (not that kind of rehab) convinced me I just might have a say in how long I'd be sticking around. The formula was simple: Eat better, exercise more and take my medication.

I started with the zeal of the converted, doing Dr. Dean Ornish's ascetic low-fat diet. That lasted a few months. Now I just watch what I eat and try not to pig out. Ironically, I was on an exercise bike at the YMCA when I had my heart attack, but now I get at least 30 minutes of exercise -- on a treadmill, a rowing machine or my bicycle -- every day. I lost 20 pounds after my coronary, and while I don't like that I've gained 10 of them back, I do think I am "healthier" than I was before I was sucker-punched by my left anterior descending artery.

Oh, and I never shovel snow anymore. I think I could, actually, but I don't want to be one of those details stuck at the end of a Metro weather story. Death, I've decided, has a twisted sense of humor.

Metro columnist John Kelly had a heart attack on July 17, 2001. He's on sabbatical at Oxford University and blogging at

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