On a hot day in August, Joel Robbins and his family were outside working in the yard when he suddenly fell to the ground. He picked himself up, blamed the fall on being overheated and headed inside to cool down.
At the top of the stairs, he broke out in a cold sweat. His arms went numb and an excruciating pain tore through his chest. He yelled for his wife, Wendy, struggling to make it down the stairs without falling, clinging to the banister like a lifeline.
He spotted the Lord’s prayer hanging on the wall and knew it was a sign that he needed to start praying; he was having a heart attack.
Wendy supported him as he came down the stairs and lay down on the family room floor. She called 911 and a neighbor to come take care of the kids.
Minutes later, the first responders arrived and confirmed it was a heart attack. Joel felt like his chest was slowly being crushed, like an elephant was sitting on his ribcage.
In the ambulance on the way to IU Health Arnett Hospital, the EMT shook him.
“Don’t leave,” he said.
Am I that bad? Joel thought, his mind racing.
“44 year old white male. Need to talk to the cardiologist.” Joel could hear the first responder talking over the radio. “We’re five minutes out. I need everybody to be ready.”
Joel’s legs went numb as they arrived at the emergency department, and nurses came running to his side.
I don’t have much time, Joel thought. I’m slipping away.
The IU Health Arnett Hospital staff rushed him into catheterization lab to remove the blood clot and place a stent.
“I have a lot to live for at home,” Joel said to everyone who cared for him, striving to make a personal connection, to look them in the face so they would know that he had to live, he had to go home.
He kept repeating that sentence until the anesthesia took effect. The nurses, techs and physicians worked quickly to save him.
By 10 pm that night, Joel was awake and able to call his children and tell them how much he loved them.
Life After a Heart Attack
Over two years later, Joel is active, 55 pounds lighter and a mentor for others who have been through major heart events.
“My life has changed for the better,” Joel says. “It is 100% better than it would have been.”
Joel works with the American Heart Association to use Facebook and Twitter to encourage others who are recovering from heart events and facing the same lifestyle changes he has made.
He says that a heart attack or heart surgery can make you feel alone and depressed. He tries to help people understand that life can get better after a heart event.
“I tell them, ‘Something bad happened; let’s make the best of it. You have a new lease on life. Make yourself a new person.’”
Joel says that his biggest motivator to stay healthy is the terrible pain he endured and the moment he thought he was taking his last breath, looking up at his wife and kids.
“I never want to feel that again,” he says. “My 45th birthday was my best birthday ever.”