Reinventing My Life After Cardiac Arrest

For the 5 percent of people who survive sudden cardiac arrest a defibrillator usually revives them. Without a timely burst of power to the chest the other 95 percent die. I was one of those rare survival statistics.

Arriving at the emergency department at midnight, I was met by a team of 15 doctors who immediately dove into action. I had a cardio defibrillator inserted into my chest. While the plumbing of my heart reflected my super-fit status, the electrics had gone out of whack and this device would automatically shock me out of any further instances of life-threatening arrhythmia. But while I was recovering from surgery, a clot developed at the site of my surgery and lodged itself in my brain, and I suffered a stroke. Thankfully it was detected within three hours, and I received thrombolysis. The clot passed through and, I didn’t suffer any long-term disability.

I’d started 2014 on a high note, with lots of demand for research on executive leadership, scaling up high-growth companies, corporate innovation, and tracking various trends in emerging technologies. I was raring to go and ready for a solid calendar of international travel when bam, out of the blue, I had hit the ground. I hit it literally and I hit it hard.

When I was eventually released from ICU in March 2014, I saw everything through fresh eyes, and I knew I had been given an incredibly rare second chance. I just had to figure out what to do with it.

Over the next few weeks I recuperated well. I focused on resting and slowly building up my exercise regime. Initially I could only walk a short distance but eventually got up to about four miles and then I returned to work. The following months were really difficult, as my health went on a rollercoaster. I was having more and more arrhythmias, and these events were both exhausting and disruptive. I simply wanted to get back to normal, or at least a new normal as much as possible. I had an operation to ablate the areas on my heart that were causing electrical misfiring and hence tachycardia. That procedure was successful, and within a few months, my health was stabilizing, but what about my life journey?

Like others who have experienced a near-death experience, I set about reinventing my life. I resigned from what had once felt like my dream job but had now become pure drudgery. I spent time in contemplation and travelled in my mind instead of on an endless parade of international flights. I set up my company with the aim of helping others to be fiercely compassionate and purposeful in their work, their lives, and within society. We take people and organizations on a journey of self-discovery and guide them to go deeper into themselves and step into their greatness.

It took nearly losing my life for me to become aware of how I was living: lacking spirituality, disconnected from myself, racing for the dollar at the expense of my health and my family. I knew I wasn’t alone in living this way; I saw it all around me in my colleagues and friends, in my community, and in the wider world.

How many of us delay inner joy and instead chase after fleeting moments of happiness? Addicted to the new, to the shiny, constantly on the move—flitting our attention this way and that—and all the time trying to drown out an ever-louder cacophony of negative voices, a growing sense of dread, and overwhelming sense of fear. How many of us live moments away from burnout, as we lack resilience and feel like we are running on empty all the time?

When you come back from a near-death experience, it is like being reborn: you see everything through fresh eyes; the job you have been grinding at as a way to pay the mortgage seems meaningless; the relationship with someone you have drifted apart from seems pointless; and that thing you really want to be doing instead of being a lawyer and have been telling yourself for years that someday you will get to it — well…THIS. IS. SOME. DAY!

I felt the impact of my reinvention was at its most profound in the last year, following my father’s diagnosis of stage 4 cancer. My near-death experience had removed my fear of death and I was able to comfort my father and share my perspectives with him.

What it all boils down to is that we must seize the moment: we must break through any fear; we must override our negative self-talk; we must live in the moment with compassion and love for both others and ourselves; and most importantly, we must do what comes naturally to us.

RAND LEEB-du TOIT of Sydney, Australia, is CEO of EXOscalr where he brings compassion and wisdom to his practice as a business and life strategist. His book, Fierce Reinvention, is available from Amazon.

Our HeartFelt department highlights our readers’ experiences with heart disease from their own perspective. We’re always looking for contributions, so please send us yours. Before submitting, please review our Writer’s Guidelines.

This information is provided as a resource to our readers. The tips, products or resources listed or linked to have not been reviewed or endorsed by the American Heart Association.

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