FRI, May 13, 2022 (American Heart Association News) — Justin Ballard of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, stared at the pictures in disbelief.
“Do I really look that big?” He thought.
The pictures came from a happy occasion – Christmas Day 2019, when Kelsey, the oldest of his three children, got engaged.
The couple set a wedding date for October 2021. Justin vowed to be in much better shape by then.
Standing 6 feet tall, he often exceeded 250 pounds, sometimes 260.
He would normally lose about 25 pounds in the spring and summer simply by playing softball and staying busy in his yard, but he struggled to keep it off. He worked a stressful desk job, fueling himself with sodas and junk food. Lunches often came from the drive-through windows.
His weight also caused health problems. Since 2015, he has been taking medication on and off to control his blood pressure. He was in one of his “on” courses.
In January 2020, Justin began his transformation by seeing his doctor.
When he first stepped on the scale in months, he weighed 285 – his highest ever.
At that moment, Justin, who was then 44 years old, stopped soft drinks and fast food. He started making healthy lunches and bringing them to work.
The walking routine began in the evening. Within two weeks, he was logging 3 miles a day.
That summer, he and his wife, Michelle, discovered kayak. They began to spend most of the weekend on the water.
On a follow-up date in August, Justin stepped on the scale. This led to him sending him a photo of himself to his family with the caption, “Guess who weighs 225 pounds? This guy.”
“I felt great, I looked great,” he said. “I was a new person and loved every minute of it.”
With winter approaching, Justin was afraid to become inactive. Therefore, he took a second job, working in an open-air store. He had just turned 45 years old.
In January 2021, after adding some vacation pounds and feeling sluggish, he decided to hit the gym.
He would get up at 3:30 a.m., visit the gym, do his main job, then his second job, and come home around 9:30 p.m. He also works on Saturdays in the store. He was exhausted.
By May, Justin needed a break. He cut half his hours on the second job. Sure enough, he’s starting to feel more energetic.
A few weeks after starting the new routine, Justin was finishing his shift at his second job when he started feeling what he thought was indigestion.
He finished the time and went home.
On the highway, Justin couldn’t stop sweating, even with the air conditioner blown. He felt short of breath and nauseated.
“Something is not right,” he told her.
I heard the fear in his voice.
She said, “Stop now.”
Kelsey lived nearby, so I called her Michelle.
Kelsey called her father, who had stopped at a parking lot near an exit. He looked scared and hurt.
She hung up and called 911, then immediately called her dad.
“I can hear the sirens,” he said. “I love you.”
At the time, his chest was aching, his breathing was weak and his left arm was numb.
“This is it,” he said. “i’m done.”
Suddenly, paramedics surrounded him. In an ambulance, the EMT said, “Sir, you’re having a severe heart attack.”
“You can’t let me die!” He said. “My daughter is getting married in October. I have to walk her down the aisle!”
Justin woke up in the emergency room, Michelle next to him.
A cardiac catheterization found a 100% blockage in his left anterior descending artery. Doctors inserted a stent to restore blood flow.
Justin said doctors believe his family history was a major cause of his heart attack. His mother had a heart attack in her 60s, each requiring a stent to clear an artery blockage.
Doctors also said that his current fitness level is what is likely to keep him alive.
After the heart attack, Justin felt moody and sad. He was also afraid of the pressure on his heart.
“I was afraid to do anything,” he said. “I didn’t want to sleep because I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up.”
His doctor recommended cardiac rehabilitation. I did the trick.
“The two nurses were adorable,” he said. “They helped me deal with what they described as cardiac depression. The connection to a machine helped me to trust my heart.”
Michelle was so worried about Justin’s physical health that she didn’t even think about mental recovery.
“Doctors don’t always tell you about that part,” she said.
I have noticed a profound difference since my rehab program.
“He doesn’t worry about the little things as much as he once did,” she said.
On October 2, 2021, with his heart steady and his weight in control, Justin donned a suit on the day he’s long been aiming for – Kelsey’s wedding.
He maintained his composure as she walked down the aisle. At the beginning of the reception. But then, “As we were dancing, she said, ‘Dad, I’m so glad you’re here,'” and she put her head on my shoulder, Justin said. “I just screamed like a child.”
American Heart Association news covers heart and brain health. Not all opinions expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or operated by the American Heart Association, Inc. , All rights reserved. If you have questions or comments about this story, please email [email protected].
Written by Diane Daniel, American Heart Association News