Peter Kornberger from Balterswil (canton of Thurgau) now enjoys spending more time with his family (here by Lake Bichelsee).
"I had never been seriously ill until 3 December 2014. Since that time, I have been reliant on medication and will be for the rest of my life. In spite of this, my quality of life has never been better. I survived two heart attacks – and am happier than I have ever been. I simply ignored the first one. Chest pain, bouts of sweating – has my rib been squashed or is the flu going around? My doctor was more concerned than me. So I got into my car. The pain got worse as I was driving. It was so bad I just wanted to die. I imagined my children and wife in front of me. You have to stay alive! You want to see your young daughter get married one day! Under extreme pain, I forced myself to continue. The windows were open and the music was playing loudly – I mustn’t lose consciousness under any circumstances. I collapsed in the doctor’s surgery. Resuscitation, ambulance and emergency operation with two stents. I would have died a few minutes later.
Check-up showed no abnormalities
Me, a heart attack? Even though I recently had a check-up? Ironically, I went for one after one of my employees had had a heart attack. Her story was on my mind. I immediately stopped smoking. Perhaps that was too abrupt after twenty years? My overweight (I only watched sport on TV), my considerable genetic predisposition – my father died of a heart attack – and my unhealthy work-life balance did the rest.
The emergency operation was followed a few days later by a second operation: with stents numbers three and four in me, I was allowed to go home a week after the heart attack. In the outpatient rehabilitation centre, I learned to live a healthier life – both physically and mentally. I improved my fitness, lost weight, made priorities and restructured my daily routine. I couldn’t have done it without my family. I already started working part-time one month after the heart attack. This gave me strength. My lifestyle is completely new: ergometer training twice a week, cardiac sport group once a week, after-lunch sleep, a healthy diet and conscious enjoyment. My family also likes the new Peter because in spite of having a full agenda with my job and sport, I make more time for them.
Second heart attack due to stent thrombosis
The second heart attack occurred a year later: stent thrombosis, a closure within the stent. A shock. Why is this happening to me now? I had just got a brilliant result in the ECG stress test, lost 26 kilograms and was extremely fit. According to my cardiologist, such a case is as rare as getting six numbers right in the lotto. I was simply unlucky. However, thanks to my level of fitness, my heart suffered no further damage. I am well – even with stent number five inside me.
I recently stopped spontaneously on the way to work to marvel at the magnificent red dawn sky. Two years ago, I would have driven passed it heedlessly, but do you know what was at the top of my mind after my first heart attack? I hadn’t consciously said goodbye to my children and wife on that December morning. What I also regret today is that I used to be so unathletic. Among other people, I also have the psychologist who visited me in intensive care at the time to thank for my transformation. 'Consider the heart attack something positive,' she said. How right she was."
How the heart and psyche are interconnected
Mary Princip, specialist psychologist in psychotherapy at Inselspital Bern, talks about the psychological consequences of a heart attack.
"Just like stress and psychological problems can bring on a heart attack, a heart attack can weigh heavily on the psyche. It gives you an identity crisis: capability, occupation, financial security, leisure time and life plans start to unravel. Patients have to come to terms with the experience, re-orientate themselves and accept the illness. They go through phases of suppression, feelings of guilt, anger, sadness and gratitude for having been given a second life or for finally having an explanation for the long-standing symptoms. How somebody deals with a heart attack and its consequences depends on several factors: the circumstances surrounding the incident, sociodemographic characteristics, personality, social support, medical history and perception of the illness.
What helps the person varies from case to case. Where do they get strength from? What gives them a sense of security? Nature, social activities or exercise? It is not always possible to come to terms with it without professional help. 20 to 30 percent of heart attack patients suffer from depression or anxiety. 10 to 20 percent go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, with tormenting thoughts about the event, avoidance behaviour and intensified agitation. This is problematic because the psyche affects recovery and the health prognosis as a whole: depression doubles the risk of having another heart attack. That is why the psyche is an important part of the rehabilitation process."
Text: Daniela Schori