When Sam Prewitt’s doctor told him several years ago that his extremely high cholesterol levels meant he might not reach age 30, Prewitt reacted with disbelief.
“I felt fine and thought I was invincible,” he said.
In May 2015, Prewitt, who lives in Cleveland, was doing his usual 2-mile run with a running group but struggled as he climbed a hill at the 1-mile mark. In a blow to his ego, he also realized many group members who usually were the last to finish were passing him.
Overcome with exhaustion, Prewitt laid on the ground while a friend went for help. An electrocardiogram by the EMTs who arrived, combined with testing at the hospital, revealed it was a heart attack. Doctors discovered a 95% blockage in his right coronary artery.
Prewitt completed cardiac rehab and learned more about controlling his risk factors to avoid joining the 1 in 4 heart attack survivors who have a second one.
Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist and medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Health, said controlling risk factors and taking medication as prescribed, including an aspirin if recommended, are key to helping prevent up to 80% of second heart attacks.
“Talk to your doctor before making any changes or stopping your medication,” Goldberg said. “These medication regimens are key to helping prevent a second heart attack.”
Prewitt was twice diagnosed with high cholesterol, once in middle school and again at 26, but didn’t take medication as prescribed.
“If you looked at me, you wouldn’t think anything was wrong because I was skinny and active all the time,” he said.
Looking back, Prewitt said he didn’t recognize the increased risk he had from genetics. His dad had high cholesterol and high blood pressure and survived three heart attacks and a stroke by the time Prewitt was in 10th grade. His sister also has high cholesterol.
Surviving a heart attack is a life-changing event, Goldberg said, and it’s important to share any concerns or fears with your health care provider.
“Come prepared with your most important questions about your medication or activity, and if you have any recurrent symptoms or chest discomfort, share that with your doctor as soon as possible,” she said.
Prewitt now takes medication to control his blood pressure and cholesterol, and he takes a daily aspirin, as recommended by his doctor, to help prevent a second heart attack. He works closely with his doctor to monitor any changes to medication, and he makes sure to keep appointments with his health care providers.
Aspirin is not appropriate for everyone, so be sure to talk to your doctor before you begin an aspirin regimen.
Maintaining trust in his health care providers, Prewitt said, is one of the biggest changes.
“When they told me at 26 I could have four years to live, it seemed so extreme, I was suspicious,” he said. “Now I know I can’t stop going to the doctor.”
Prewitt exercises regularly, now with a focus on keeping his heart strong rather than as a social activity.
He has also overhauled his diet, cooking at home more, reading food labels and opting for healthier options. He focuses on changes he can maintain, such as buying an air fryer so he could still indulge in french fries.
Prewitt advocates for heart health, using his social media platform and the hashtag #heartstrong to urge others to find ways to get more exercise, eat healthy and know their numbers. And he encourages friends to join him on local AHA Heart Walks.
Learn more about how you may avoid a second heart attack.
See what Marybel Coleman has done to help avoid having a second heart attack.