Q&A with Patrick J. Fox

A man who died six times offers support to heart attack victims and their families.

Excerpt from The Widow-Maker Heart Attack at age 48

On March 31, 2008, Patrick Fox, a relatively healthy, 48-year-old defied the odds and death six times when he suffered a "widow-maker" heart attack. One year later, Fox wrote The Widow-Maker Heart Attack at age 48, a book that provides hope and a pathway to recovery for other heart attack patients and their loved ones facing the same daunting, life-changing, unexpected experience. The book chronicles Patrick's first year after the heart attack, and, in his words, "has a great deal to relay about heart disease, surviving heart attacks, anticipating heart attacks, and mentally and physically recovering from heart attacks." He is considered a 'medical miracle' by many health professionals, and that accomplishment encouraged him to share his story with others. Patrick can be contacted at patrickfox@widowmakerheartattack.com.

You say you've never written anything before. What made you write about this experience?

My daughter and son and my wife looked and looked for books on heart attacks in relatively young people, especially what's known as the "widow-maker" heart attack, and almost 100% of the books they found were written by medical professionals, not by survivors. They were good, but not what my family was looking for in terms of what I was going through and what they wanted to know. It may sound corny, but it seemed like a higher power pushed me to write it.

Describe what happened on March 31, 2008, and how you reacted.

At the time, I was a high-school teacher in Rockford, IL. About 8 a.m. I was doing grades for the third quarter when I started feeling some discomfort in the very tips of both of my shoulder blades. The day prior I had been chain-sawing trees and throwing around 50-pound bales of hay, so I thought it was muscle-related. I started running around the room and doing jumping-jacks, push-ups and arm-rolls to try to loosen up my shoulders. Looking back, that probably wasn't the brightest thing to do, but I never thought it was a heart attack because it wasn't what I call a "Hollywood heart attack" with left arm pain and throwing up. I didn't connect the dots. The pain grew worse, so I asked the school nurse for some Advil, which helped for about 30 minutes, then the pain came back with more intensity. By 9:10 the pain was unbearable, and I agreed that an ambulance should be called. The paramedics put me into the ambulance and I told them what I'd been doing to get rid of the stiff muscles and which hospital my insurance provider preferred, and suddenly I coded. I came back just as they were taking me out of the ambulance and remember holding onto the gurney for dear life and thinking, "My goodness, it's just a back problem."

When did you finally realize something more serious was going on?

I didn't have a clue until I woke up in the ICU with a tube down my throat and feeling like a gorilla had jumped on my chest. That's when I realized it was not just back pain. In addition to the first episode, I found out I had coded in the emergency room, in the hallway between the ER and the cath lab, and in the cath lab--a total of six times. I remember a nurse rubbing my cheek and saying, "Don't leave us again," and I was clueless what she was talking about. Later, my cardiologist came in, and when I asked him what happened, he said, "You weren't just a little bit dead; you were way dead." That was difficult to hear. People I've talked to since assumed the doctors cracked open my chest, but I tell them I wouldn't be here today if they'd taken time to do that. They had one chance and they took it, because they couldn't keep me alive. God was in that cardiologist's hands--there's no two ways about that. (Patrick had angioplasty to clear a 100% blockage in the left anterior descending artery.)

One of the experiences you remember clearly was how you reacted the first time you were given nitroglycerin. Describe what that was like.

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