The heart of the matter


In December of 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson made a proclamation designating the month of February as American Heart Month in an effort to spread awareness about heart-related issues, and remind Americans of the importance of their heart health. While American Heart Month has now officially come to an end, it is important to stay proactive about heart health as we move forward.

According to the American Heart Association, roughly 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day, which averages to about one death every 38 seconds. However, the organization says that about 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases may be preventable with the proper education and action.

Recently, Petal Alderman Craig Bullock was almost a factor in those statistics.

For Bullock, the term, ‘close-call,’ has taken on a whole new meaning following a serious unexpected heart-related procedure early February. What started out as mild, seemingly unsuspicious,  chest pain from time to time ended up being a 99.9 percent blockage of one of his main arteries, according to Bullock.

“The crazy thing about the whole story is I actually went to the doctor because my blood pressure had been up. I didn’t really go because of any the chest pains or anything, I just happened to mentioned it to my doctor while I was there,” he said. “The only thing I noticed was in around the middle of December, I would have a slight burn in my chest whenever I picked something heavy. It was just enough to get my attention, but I never thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m about to have a heart attack,’ or anything like that.”

In this situation, the timing could not have been any more critical. For something with so little obvious or visible signs, his condition was far more urgent than one might expect.

“The doctor came out of the room after the procedure and told my wife and my mother, ‘I don’t typically like to brag about saving people’s lives, but I just saved his life,’ which is pretty powerful in itself,” he said. 

Bullock explained that it wasn’t until the week after the procedure that he grasped the reality of the situation.

“We didn’t understand the gravity of it until a week later when I went back and we heard that the doctor was the only doctor there that would have even attempted to put a stent in right there, most everyone would have gone straight to open heart surgery,” he said. “I asked him about it when we went back and he said, ‘I saw the damage, and you were hooked up to the machines when your heart started doing some very unusual things.’ He looked straight at me and said, ‘you didn’t have much time.’

Bullock, who was already relatively healthy to begin with, is perhaps a walking example of exactly why it is so important to be proactive when it comes to heart health, for he isn’t necessarily the poster child for this kind of experience.

“To my knowledge, there is no history of this in my family, and I’ve never been a drinker or a smoker,” he said. “I can’t say that I was an obsessively healthy eater, but I probably ate like most everyone else – nothing overboard.”

Although his symptoms might not have seemed like a big deal at the time, Bullock’s proactiveness from the beginning is likely what saved his life. He explained that he made a point be transparent and keep his wife informed on how he was feeling.

“The scariest part about all of this is that I can’t necessarily say I felt bad before all of this happened,” he said. “Looking back I can see there were signs, but they were signs people who try to tough it out might easily ignore.”

Now a month later, Bullock said that the overall experience has help to alter his perspective about almost everything.

“There are many things in life that are just not worth stressing out about,” he said. “There are many things like time spent with my wife and my kids that are much more valuable to me now.”

Additionally, Bullock believes that this experience ultimately helped him achieve a greater understanding of his life’s purpose.

“The night I stayed over in the hospital my wife said to me, ‘you have a much greater purpose for being here than just being a husband and a father. God has something for you and we don’t know what that is just yet.’ I feel certain in that too.”

Bullock explained that his purpose in life moving forward, in addition to being a father and a husband, is doing a more thorough job of sharing Christ with other people.

Lastly, Bullock is encouraging others to take on a more proactive role when it comes to heart health, using his story as proof of the importance of doing so.

“Don’t ever think it can’t happen to you. Stories like mine are the ones you read and hear about where a random 40-year-old guy just drops dead in the yard one day and there is really no explanation for it, though I’d be willing to bed there were some signs that just were not acknowledged,” he said. “It’s not a situation where I want to make people feel paranoid, but just listen to your body. When something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out. It’s not going to hurt a thing to do so.”