NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The American Heart Association reports more heart attacks between Christmas and New Year's Day than at any other time of the year. The association is encouraging everyone to watch what they eat and regulate their stress during the holidays.
"It's serious. Heart disease does not discriminate against age, gender, color. Whether you work out or you don't work out...there's nothing that doesn't discriminate. I want people to know that and understand what to look for, look for the symptoms. That can be something as easy as heartburn or shortness of breath or things," explained 53-year-old heart attack survivor John Dietrich.
In August 2020, he started feeling strange especially in his chest at his job in Murfreesboro and knew he needed to sit down.
"At one point I had to go out in my truck and lay there for quite a couple—for 30 minutes," said Dietrich. "I was uncomfortable that day and fast forward to the end of the day. I was still having heartburn issues and felt a little tingly."
Not long after, Dietrich was in the ER.
"If you mentioned the word 'heart,' as soon as you go into the ER you kind of get fast-forwarded," he explained. "My Widowmaker artery was 100% blocked."
That artery supplies blood to the heart and was given its name because of how often it makes a widow.
Dietrich recalled feeling overwhelmed and lucky he survived.
"You didn't have time to say your last farewell or goodbye to anybody or loved ones that you know have to think about that," he said. "That was hard. It's really hard to think about."
Dietrich said heart disease was not in his family but said he lived a healthy lifestyle and went to the gym.
"There is high blood pressure in the family but nothing to the extent of what I went through," said Dietrich. "There’s anxiety—stress could be a huge component. And that time of my life, I did have some stress. Everybody has stress and I had a lot of stress and anxiety going on at that time."
Dr. Daniel Munoz, Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute Executive Medical Director and Greater Nashville American Heart Association Board President, explained around the holidays it is OK to have the extra slice of pie, we just need to pay even more attention to our bodies.
"You should not put good habits on a holiday," stated Dr. Munoz. "The things that keep you well during the year are the very same things that can help protect you from a heart attack or stroke during a time that should be about joy and being with family."
"Typically that period from the Christmas holiday for many people and New Year's is thought of as a time of peace of tranquility. Ironically, during that week alone, we see as many if not more heart attacks than on any other week during the year. Just reinforcing the importance of good self-care, good self-maintenance," emphasized Dr. Munoz. "I might even say that we should all plan for both peace on earth and goodwill towards yourself during that week."
Both Munoz and Dietrich said they hope the reminder will bring down the number of heart attacks this holiday season.
"Tell your loved ones you love them every day. Because you don’t know if you're gonna see them when you come home. I went into that ER and didn't have a chance to call anybody didn't have a chance to say anything to anyone other than God," Dietrich stressed.