The Day I Died

Survivor David Warren with his daughter Marissa and wife Angel

Sometimes it takes a life-changing event to shift your perspective on what’s important in life, and no event is more life-changing than death. Since my own death in November 2014, I have learned more about living.

It was a cold, snowy day when I collapsed on the couch at home in full cardiac arrest. My wife Angela’s quick thinking to call 911, the paramedic’s timely arrival and their paddles brought me back to life. I was dead for 12 minutes. It took five jolts of their defibrillator to bring me back, and some good doctors and nurses to keep me alive.

When I came out of the coma and off the ventilator a few days later, I heard the same thing over and over: It was a miracle that you survived.

This was my second flirtation with death due to a damaged heart. The first occurred nearly 40 years ago. I was born with a hole in my heart and a pinched valve, which required several complex heart surgeries. One, which was meant to last four hours, lasted 24 due to complications.

Twelve minutes of death at age 52 caused a lot of self-reflection. Here are some things that my death taught me about life:

Appreciate your true supporters.

I discovered the support of my wife and daughter Marissa are invaluable and give my life meaning.

It’s never too soon to tackle your bucket list of important dreams.

A few years ago, I put “published writer” on my bucket list. (When you have congenital heart issues, you make a bucket list early.) The day I died, I got a job blogging for Dayton Parent Magazine. I have also published two children’s books and appeared in multiple editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. And now here, in Heart Insight.

Tell your kids you love them every time you say goodbye or goodnight.

Earlier the day I died, my wife said I spoke to Marissa at college. Since I had no memory of that day, I feared that I had not told her “I love you” when we hung up. Truly, I am here to tell you that “You never know when you are going to die” and “Love life and appreciate each day; it could be your last” are not clichés, they are good advice.

Let others know when you’re hurting; don’t bottle up your feelings.

Prior to that day and for several months afterward, I was holding in some hurt feelings. The bitterness gnawed at me, and because I kept quiet, I kept hurting. I have learned to reduce my stress by letting others know when I feel slighted or disrespected. I was given a second chance to get things off my chest, but I could have died with those feelings bottled up inside of me!

A surgery you have as a child (or that your child has) does not assure a lifelong cure.

Just now, experts in pediatric cardiology are learning about the secondary effects of these complex operations. Had I followed this more closely and met with experts, I would have had some preventative care for my heart. I now meet regularly with a cardiologist and an expert in Tetralogy of Fallot, one of the conditions for which I had complex surgery.

Know that you’re not invincible, but don’t live in fear.

Over the years I did a lot of shoveling. This is not smart if you have congenital heart problems.

Now that I’m over the shock of going into cardiac arrest, I know that I have to live each day to the fullest and appreciate it.

Strive to be healthier and reduce stress.

My near-death experience changed me. I work at being healthier. I relax more and try not to sweat the small stuff. Some hints: Take walks and naps. Play with your pet. Listen to good music.

Remember, most people only live once, so smile and laugh more.

Life can be pretty serious, but a sense of humor is vital. Laugh all you can to relieve the pressures that come with recovering in today’s volatile world. If you’re going to die — and we all will sometime — it’s better to die happy than unhappy!

Connect with friends.

There’s nothing like dying to teach you the value of friends and the importance of connecting and re-connecting with friends. True friends love you in good times and bad. They cry when you almost die and laugh with you after you come back to life!

Be grateful and life is greater.

I see more of the good in life now. Simple things I took for granted mean so much. I always loved things like dipping my toes in the ocean, hearing a favorite song or holding Angela’s hand and hearing Marissa’s laugh, but now those pleasures are greater than ever. Appreciate the simple things, and when those around you make you happy tell them with words, a kiss or a hug!

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.

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