Life After Heart Attack: Our Family's Journey to Whole Living
When Zad woke me up at 5am to tell me he was scared, I was terrified. He is our rock. He’s never scared. He was sweating. He was panicked. It’s a feeling I never want to experience again.
He told me that he went back and forth from the bed to the recliner, and he could not get comfortable anywhere. His shoulder hurt, and the pain had started to creep into his chest and up into his jaw. He knew what was happening. He didn’t say it, I didn’t say it – but we knew.
We talked about whether we should call an ambulance or whether we should have one of our parents take him in. I was nursing our then 4 month old, and I knew they wouldn’t let me and her in at the ER. Zad’s dad took him in, and I sat here crying, panicked and worried. Was he coming home? Was I going to be a widow at 34 with 3 kids?
I ran through every time I was ever mean to him, any time we ever argued, and I sat in that place. It was so awful. I didn’t hear anything for about 2 hours. They did allow his dad to stay at the hospital, but his info was pretty limited for a while, too.
I finally got an update that he was having an acute heart attack and that he was going into surgery. Again, terrifying.
I waited and waited. Finally we heard that he was out of surgery, they placed two stents, and that he was resting. He was in for 2 nights. On Day 2, I talked to the man who was probably our guardian angel in all this mess. His Physician’s Assistant that saw him in the ER called me. He told me all the details, we talked about life moving forward, and he was calm.
I needed that call. After 36 plus hours of agony, I finally pulled myself up out of the trenches, and I got to work. I started researching what our new life could look like. I researched food, exercise, meds, all of it. I am a researcher by nature, and diving into our new lifestyle was the perfect distraction.
His PA is 99% sure that Zad’s heart attack was caused by plaque build up from chemo and then Covid throwing a blood clot, as only one artery was clogged – and the rest were 100% clear. This is terrifying. The thing that saved his life – chemo – almost ended his life.
Bud and I cleaned the house, and we prepared for Zad to come home.
Life After Heart Attack: He was finally home.
He left us early Monday morning and finally came home Wednesday afternoon. So much relief. He was here. I could care for him, and we could start our new life.
Life After Heart Attack: Now what?
My approach was this: all the crap food was out of the house. We were going to count our calories, eat real, clean food, and we were going to start exercising – at least to some degree – most days. The PA said exercise was good, healthy and we could start that as soon as Zad felt up to it.
I was extreme at first. I had to lay down the expectations for my family. We were not wavering from our plan. I told Zad and Bud that once we felt like we knew “how” to eat and started losing weight, that we could indulge in the occasional birthday cake or something. Everyone was on board.
I can not emphasize enough how important it is to have everyone on board. In my mind, this is literally the key to success.
Of course, Zad had to ease into exercise. He shocked me, though, as he always does. His first few days home, he was outside walking around and doing things for a few hours. He felt good. He enjoyed breathing in some fresh air after being cooped up in the hospital for 3 days.
While he was in the hospital, I had ordered him an Apple Watch. Eventually, Zad, Bud and I all had watches, and we really had no idea how much they would transform our lives.
Life After Heart Attack: What are we eating?
The Heart Group told us to eat margarine and Splenda.
I almost fell out of the chair.
We sat through one meeting with the Heart Group and then moved onto what we knew in our hearts was the right choice: eat real food. Period. If we could grow or raise it, it was on table. If it was whole grain, pure, protein packed and clean – we wanted it on our radar.
We absolutely did not want crap like Splenda on our radar.
We started with about 1600 calories a day. We are now at about 2000 a day, and that number seems to be very practical for us. Zad is very active working on our homestead and blacksmithing, as well as running with our local hot air balloon team crew. I am nursing and a busy mom of 3, and Bud is still growing rapidly at age 12.
It took us a while to settle into a good calorie spot. We write our calories on the marker board in the kitchen everyday. We try to keep each meal around 500 calories. Writing the calories in plain sight keeps us accountable.
On the whole, we don’t allow junk in the house. Of course the kids got Easter baskets, and that’s fine. We’ve found balance. We’ve been to a few birthday parties since the heart attack, and we ate a piece of cake. We finally feel pretty settled into a routine. We know about what 500 calories looks like for a meal, and that is a huge help.
I feel like it’s also worth mentioning that you CAN eat healthy foods and not break the bank. You can grow some of your own veggies in a window or on a deck, if you don’t have a garden yet or don’t have a yard.
You can shop FlashFood, if you’re in Lancaster County, PA. Use my code to get $5 off your first order: ZADO2SMV9. Just download the FlashFood app, shop your local Giant stores, and use the code at checkout. It’s a great way to find super discounted produce and other groceries! Check out my blog on making the most of FlashFood.
You can also shop in bulk at local stores or big clubs, like Sam’s Club or BJ’s. If you need tips on how to shop frugally in bulk, email me! I love to chat about ways to thriftily buy, store, and preserve food for your family.
Life After Heart Attack: What’s for breakfast?
Let’s talk about what our days look like for food.
If someone has to run out the door, we keep protein packed, low sugar, real ingredient granola bars on hand. Some of our favorites come from Kind, LaraBar, and RXBAR. (I am an Amazon affiliate and get a small commission from the links in the blog post.) These bars aren’t perfect. They are full of real ingredients, we can read the ingredients on the labels, and they get us a nice dose of protein to start the day, if we are running late or flying out the door.
When we are home, these are our faves:
Rolled oats with fresh fruit, cinnamon, whole milk, dried fruit, freeze dried fruit, real butter, nuts, seeds, nut butters, homemade jam – so many possibilities!
This is really our go to breakfast besides eggs. If you do 1 cup of cooked oats at 150 calories, add a tablespoon of Sunbutter (100 calories), throw in a sliced banana (100 calories), cinnamon and a tablespoon of salted pumpkin seeds (25 calories) on top – you’ve got an awesomely rounded breakfast at 375 calories, lots of fiber, and tons of protein.
You could even stir in 1/2 cup of whole milk at 75 calories to add some more protein. This takes you to 450 calories, which is a great breakfast to start your day. We personally buy rolled oats in bulk at our local Amish store, but you could also get them at somewhere like Sam’s Club or Costco, even Walmart.
We don’t do quick oats, as there just isn’t as much nutrition. We also do steel cut oats, but that does require a little more planning than rolled.
Eggs are like shrimp…there’s so many options. For breakfast, we do hard boiled eggs, dippy eggs (sunny side up for my friends who don’t live in Lancaster County), scrambled eggs, over hard eggs, egg casserole – again, the possibilities are endless.
Mix in some pieces of bacon, pieces of sausage, sprinkle in some cheese, add in your favorite herbs, stir in some broccoli or spinach, and of course – top with some delicious and nutritious pink salt.
For the mornings you’re flying out the door, you can have red beet eggs ready to go, dill pickled eggs, plain hard boiled eggs, or make an egg casserole the night before that just needs warmed up in the air fryer.
Whole Wheat Pancakes
If you don’t do a nut butter on top, these need protein added in, so you can add in peanut butter powder or pea protein powder – add a little extra water to make it the right consistency.
Have this with a side of eggs. You could have some ham steak, some sausage, even a pork chop.
And quickly – let’s talk about meat. We do meat we raise ourselves, or we buy from farmers we know. Not to keep knocking what the Heart Group told us, but they wanted us to eat red meat once a month and meat in general just a few days a week. After talking with our trusted Chiropractor and our Nurse Practitioner that is pretty crunchy, we decided that a balanced lifestyle of fruit, veggies, meat, grains – and just clean, good food – was the best choice.
For us, meat is not the enemy. We enjoy bison, deer, chicken, turkey and occasionally fish. We would love to add more fish into our diet, but to get it ourselves is a production – and ordering good quality fish is very expensive. For now, we will continue to raise our own meat in turkeys and chickens. We hope to soon do pheasant, rabbit, maybe quail, and potentially pigs.
Make the right choice for your family, based on your health, your history, your trusted providers, and what sits well with your soul. None of this is medical advice. It’s just our experience.
Life After Heart Attack: What’s for lunch?
Lunch always seems to be our toughest meal. And to be honest, we normally graze a good chunk of the day. We have a solid breakfast and dinner, and then the middle hours are 2-3 snacks.
Making your own jerky is of course an option, too! Buy some great local beef, turkey, chicken, pork – any meat! – and add it to your dehydrator trays. We love this dehydrator from Cosori.
Jerky is easy to make, and you can get super creative. Use sauces you like with little to no sugar, real salt, herbs, etc to liven up your marinade!
Bologna – hear me out. You can enjoy bologna from many animals, if you know where it came from. We had venison bologna most of the winter and just ran out, which we are super bummed about. It was the perfect high protein snack on the go for us. Animal fat is not the enemy.
Freeze Dried or Fresh Fruit
If you have fresh or frozen fruit on hand, you can always make a smoothie. Add some PB Protein or Pea Protein to it, as to not have a natural sugar only lunch. Of course, you can add spinach or kale – in fresh or powdered form.
If you don’t have a freeze dryer and have questions, feel free to email us at email@example.com. You can order one through our link here.
There are infinite possibilities with this. You could do whole wheat pretzels, whole wheat or almond crackers, cut cheeses, fresh veggies, mustards (get ones with little to no added sugar), dried fruit, nuts, sauerkraut (get in that good gut health!), pickles, red beets, hard boiled eggs, yogurt dip, or red beet eggs, olives …the list literally could go on forever.
Find a nice balance of natural sugars, carbs and protein. The ticket here is to not overeat. Track your calories. Get about 100 calories of cheese, 100 calories of meat/nuts, 100 calories of fruit, maybe 50 or so calories of dip, 100 calories of carb like crackers or pretzels. This balanced COUNTED lunch option will help you feel full, and you’ll get the fun of exploring a charcuterie board.
This is such a quick easy lunch. You can make this in a way that avoids junk ingredients. We make ours with the protein, our homemade yogurt, our homemade mustard or another homemade sauce, raisins/dried cranberries, grapes, apples, salt and pepper.
You can have this in a whole wheat wrap, on almond or whole wheat crackers, or on celery!
Life After Heart Attack: What’s for dinner?
Usually the final meal of the day and the one that everyone scrambles to throw together is dinner – or supper, depending on what part of the country you are in. We are admittedly not really meal planners, but we keep lots of healthy options on hand to make quick dinners when we need to.
What season is it?
I feel like what we eat for any meal really depends on the season. In canning season, we will probably do some home canned venison on some chickpea tortilla chips with our homemade salsa and other greens and veggies from the garden. In the winter, we might take that same home canned ground version and simmer chili on the coal stove all day. On a hot summer day when we’ve been working outside, we might not feel like much and just do some protein fruit smoothies or a salad with some chicken grilled on the Blackstone.
Let’s talk about chili. Perhaps the most versatile meal ever. You can use any protein – turkey, chicken, beef, bison, venison – your imagination is the limit. We add tons of veggies to chili. Again, depending on the season, we’ll use fresh or freeze dried – maybe frozen. Always lots of onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes – all the goodness from our garden. We’ve done sweet potato chili, which is delicious, and we love adding a variety of beans. Beans are amazing protein, too, if you don’t want to add meat, are doing some plant based days, or just want to save some money on meat.
Grilled Chicken on Greens
We love this meal on hot days, and it’s especially great for days when dinner rolls around and you’re close to your calorie limit. It can be very low calorie but still very filling.
Anything on the Blackstone
When we cook in general, we try to cook with animal fat or butter. Hear me out. We aren’t using a ton, and we KNOW WHERE IT CAME FROM. Again, God made these animals to use all of their parts – bones, fat, and all.
Choosing Snacks for Protein, Portability, at Home or any other Scenario
- Like I mentioned before, we keep non-crap filled, protein packed, low sugar granola bars on hands always. We order most of our granola bars through Sam’s Club.
- Nuts of all sorts are a quick grab. Most are a serving size of 1oz or a 1/4 cup.
- Freeze dried anything – we always have bags of freeze dried fruit around.
- Seeds are fun to keep on hand. We love pumpkin seeds most for snacking. Measuring is super important with seeds.
- If we are home, we love applesauce with a piece of deer bologna.
- Whole grain pretzels with almond butter or sunbutter is always a great afternoon pick me up.
- Another fave of ours is cottage cheese with our homemade apple butter.
- String cheese. Of course, we don’t make this, but for a high protein portable snack, it’s a great option.
- Jerky, of course.
Life After Heart Attack: What about busy days?
We always have our Yetis with us full of water. We drink at least 64oz of water in a day and on long days, hot days, summer days, whatever – it’s probably closer to 128oz. Zad adds True Lemon or True Lime to his water often to mix things up. (Use that link to get 40% off your order!) These containers of lemon or lime are just crystalized lemons and limes without sugar or additives. Perfect for at home or on the go.
Life After Heart Attack: How long till we felt “normal?”
As of this original post, April 29th 2022, we are down 140 pounds as a family. Our activity levels are much higher than before the heart attack, and we are just feeling better. We probably have another 120 pounds to go as a family. Zad and I are both around the 60 pound mark individually. We would like to both be down another 50 or so. Bud (12 at this time) would like to lose another 15-20 pounds.
As for Bud, of course we had to tread that lightly, as he’s only 12. We did NOT want him to have body image issues as severely as we’ve both had since we were kids. He was excited to learn new recipes, bake fresh loaves of bread more regularly (instead of getting store-bought), and he has definitely enjoyed picking out new clothes as his body changes.
He also loves hitting the goals on his watch. We “compete” with my sister in law, so that makes the days fun, too, when we are all trying to hit our activity goals on our watches.
Zad is still on meds. Our goal with our Nurse Practitioner is to have him off all of his meds (except maybe baby Aspirin) by the 6 month mark. He’s going to hit that on June 6th. He has an appointment with her around then, and we’ll see what happens. Last appointment, she called him a “modern miracle,” and she was so pleased with his progress. We do not want to live a life dependent on meds, and we are so hopeful that we can move past that phase. His blood work has been amazing. We’ve cut his sugar number by half, which is so awesome.
Life After Heart Attack: What should I do if I want to live a healthier, more whole life?
Here are my 5 tips to get started living a more whole life:
- Clean out your pantry/fridges/freezers. If the temptation is gone, you are so much less likely to go for the things that made you feel unhealthy before. Ditch the white flours, white rices, boxed cereals, packaged and processed foods with mystery ingredients, etc.
- Start sourcing meats, produce, and dairy from local farmers. Find a local orchard, a small farmer with a produce stand, a local farmer with cows or bison, or maybe even look into raising some things on your own! I love to chat gardening and raising small animals in small spaces, so reach out!
- Learn to preserve. Start small with this. Get a dehydrator. Make some of your own jerky or fruit leathers. Then maybe learn to water bath can or pressure can. Maybe dig into a freeze dryer. All of these methods will help you KNOW what’s in the food you’re eating. If homesteading is new to you, check out my blog: Can I Homestead on a 1/4 acre?
- Go for a walk. If a watch helps you achieve your move goals, look into if you can afford one with your phone plan. Or find a cheaper alternative that achieves similar goals. Start with a 15 minute walk around your property, the neighborhood, or a local park. Then up to 20, then 30, etc. Mix it up with some cool hikes, or go for a bike ride. If the weather is not great, find some YouTube videos with yoga lessons or even Zumba. Anything that gets you moving!
- Find your people. Get in the right headspace. Can you get your family on board? Having your family’s support and everyone working towards a common goal could be HUGE in your success. We are doing this together. We are eating the same meals, we are counting calories, we are exercising, we are working together to achieve the best health we can – and it has made all the difference. If your family won’t hop on board with you, find a friend, a neighbor – anyone you enjoy that can be a friend in this journey.
I am obviously not a medical professional. I’m just a wife who endured the pain of not knowing if her husband was coming home after his heart attack, and I want others to know that you can have life after a heart attack, too. You don’t have to be drug down by the noise of medical professionals that may or may not have your best interest at heart. You CAN live a whole life with whole food and be successful at living your life to the best of your ability.
Go in love, friends.