What a Heart Attack Taught Me About Balance

Mike Figliuolo's Heart AttackSo I had a heart attack last week.

No. Literally. And I’m using the word “literally” correctly here.

I was just sitting there when out of nowhere I had a sharp pain in the right side of my chest (weird, right?). That pain started radiating out my back, down the backs of my arms and legs, and over the back of my skull. Breathing became a little difficult. This wasn’t just heartburn – trust me – I know heartburn because I get it after every trip I make to Taco Bell for their delicious Grilled Stuffed Beef Burrito XXL Extreme. Wait… causality? Hmmm…

I drove over to the ER at Dublin Methodist Hospital – an OhioHealth facility (yes, I know… I’ve already been chewed out for the decision to drive versus calling 911 but I’m approaching the limit on my cell phone minutes for this month and I didn’t want to go over by making another call). Before I knew it, a wheelchair was under my butt speeding me back to a room. Incidentally, I decided to use my client’s services for this – OhioHealth is a major client of mine where I teach and coach many of their executives. It was only natural to choose an OhioHealth facility for this “event.”

They poked, prodded, and measured. One of the nurses asked “Hey, aren’t you (OhioHealth senior executive’s) coach?” “Yep. That’s me.” “Wow.” Awkward.

After a bit, the doc told me “You have a blockage. You’re going to be fine but we’re sending you to Riverside Methodist Hospital (another OhioHealth facility) and you’re going straight to the cardiac cath lab. You’re probably getting a stent or two.”

This was one of the handful of freak-out moments I’ve ever had. The doc quickly reassured me “You’re going to be fine. You’re in the best hands possible at Riverside and your prognosis is great. Don’t worry.” I could see in his eyes that he meant it. I immediately settled down as evidenced by the selfie accompanying this post which was taken about 5 minutes after that conversation with him. You can’t take a selfie like that if you’re freaking out.  By the way – I’m not as fat as I look in the selfie.  It’s the angle of the pic causing the Jabba the Hutt chin.  Like they say – the gurney adds 10 pounds…

Zoom! Whoosh! Ambulance ride! Lights and sirens and everything. I’d like to thank Ford (another client) for building a great ambulance that got me to Riverside safely, quickly, and smoothly.

I was immediately taken into the cardiac cath lab. The nurses and the doctor were amazing. They explained everything that was going on or about to go on, they were efficient, kind, compassionate, and competent (I’ve said before I have awesome clients and the team at OhioHealth demonstrated that in spades). After making a tiny 1/2” incision in my wrist, the doc snaked a cath all the way to my heart and placed two stents to open up an artery that was 95% blocked.

I’d like to now thank my biggest client, Abbott Labs and Abbott Vascular for making the stents that saved my life. I guess you could say I’m taking this whole “be loyal to using your client’s products and services” thing a little too far…

“You’re done. All clear and all good.”

Holy crap.

I was promptly taken to recovery where two more clients took care of me – CardinalHealth/CareFusion who makes many of the pumps and devices used during my recovery care and Heinz who makes the delicious Caesar dressing that was on my chicken Caesar salad that was my dinner that night.

I had the good fortune of being well taken care of by many very close friends and family members during and after the “event” and I can’t thank everyone enough for that outpouring of support. I also had many clients from OhioHealth stop by to check on me. I always say “I don’t have customers – I have clients because clients are about a relationship.” Over the years, I’ve always viewed that relationship as one where I served my client’s needs and did everything I could to take care of them. The team at OhioHealth demonstrated that that relationship works in the other direction as well. I’m truly fortunate and blessed to serve such a compassionate and noble organization.

About 24 hours after my incident started, I was released from the hospital with some prescriptions and a great prognosis. I have to make some pretty big lifestyle changes but they’re all manageable (and good for me). I consider myself extremely lucky in all of this. Besides, wheat bread doesn’t suck as bad as I thought it did.

Honestly, the most painful part of the entire ordeal was removing the sticky EKG leads from my verdant field of chest hair after the fact.  It was like that scene in 40 Year Old Virgin.  OW!

“Okay Mike… nice blog post but where’s the lesson you always leave us with? I’m not here just to read about your little episode…”

Balance. That’s the lesson.

I’m great at giving advice. That’s what I get paid to do. I suck at taking it (and I’ve previously written about how hard it is to take your own medicine and why it’s important to do so). I have an extremely thick skull. That trait suits me well in many ways but it almost cost me my life.

I have done a terrible job of taking care of myself. My diet has been abysmal and my exercise routine consists of chasing my Jack Russell terrier around yelling at him for peeing on things. What makes it worse is I’m self-aware about these deficiencies in my behavior. I wish you guys could have seen the nutritionist’s and cardiac nurse counselor’s faces during our “aftercare” conversations.

“So Mike… do you know what you need to do?”

“Yep. Decrease sodium. Reduce fats (especially saturated ones). Increase exercise – at least 20 minutes of aerobic per day. No real resistance exercise required because this is a cardio issue. Take my statins and other meds.”

(Insert look of incredulity on their faces here). “Um… yeah… So you kinda already know all this stuff. How do you know all that?”

“Well, I’m a certified Master Fitness Trainer from my days in the Army and I also know about cholesterol issues from others who have faced these challenges. I just haven’t done it.”


Balance requires not just taking care of your job and those around you. You first have to take care of yourself because if you don’t, there’s no way to take care of anyone else – especially if you’re dead.

So I encourage all of you to take a step back and reflect upon how balanced you are. What’s your diet like? Exercise? Stress? When is the last time you saw your doctor and got a checkup? Still smoking (quit!)? If you’re out of balance, you can’t effectively lead your organizations and take care of everyone else in your life. Invest in yourself first. Get back in balance. Now… before it’s too late.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

28 Responses to “What a Heart Attack Taught Me About Balance”

  1. Marty says:

    Hang in there Mike! Glad you are doing okay!!

  2. George Nicholas says:

    In the last few years to deal with a personal difficulty I have devoured self help books and written my own. I am completing my second. Covey’s 7 habits is one of the best. Keeping physically fit is part of habit 3 – put first things first, a quadrant 2 activities that has to be fitted in. I jog for 4 miles 3 times a week and use the time to repeat my personal prayer – a series of motivational statements. This activity combines physical and spiritual renewal. It would be a great time to go over maxims to reinforce the message.

    You know what you need to do so you will get better. Exercise more and lose the extra weight so you again look lean like in your picture on the dust cover of One Piece of Paper and on the website.

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      Thanks George. Just FYI, I weigh the same amount in the selfie as I do on the dust jacket. It’s just that selfies from a bad angle on a gurney add 10 pounds (just like TV!). Thanks for reading and sharing the suggested reading.

  3. Don Perry says:

    As ever, you have provided a relatable and powerful life lesson. Thank you for sharing and thanks in advance for future tales of cardiac achievement (Team RWB has a Columbus chapter that is sure to inspire/cajole/shame you as necessary).

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      Thanks for the kind words Don. Hope all is well. Happy to share from my mistakes to prevent others from making the same ones.

  4. […] via What a Heart Attack Taught Me About Balance. […]

  5. Tim Rethlake says:

    Holy Sh*t Mike! I thought it was just another “grabber” headline to one of your blogs til I started reading it.

    I’m just glad one of your clients wasn’t “Digger O”Dells Funeral Home & Crematorium”

    Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving and MANY, MANY more!

  6. Tim Rethlake says:

    BTW. . . on the news today was the fact that the Oxford Dictionary declared “selfie” as the word of the year. 🙂

  7. Ruth Sternberg (portnoy) says:

    I had no idea this happened to you! Wow. Scary! I’m glad you survived, and I share your philosophy. I once quit a job because it got way too competitive. I let the extremely Type A boss have his kingdom. Because – I don’t care that much. I want to contribute, grow and have time to spend with friends and family. That’s all that truly matters! We are all going to die eventually. Once I really thought about that, life changed. For the better.

  8. Brian Ahearn says:

    Good luck with the changes Mike. Who knows, maybe you’ll find you really enjoy the exercise routine. I love starting my mornings with a run or lifting weights. Beyond just getting healthier it’s nice to have the extra energy getting in shape affords you … especially for the long, tough days.


  9. Karen Kang says:

    Mike, thanks for sharing. Here’s an important message for all of the women and their friends and families:

    1. Women’s symptoms of heart attack and angina can be SUBTLE. My angina was just a tightening of the chest leading to a point of pain for only a few seconds initially. No other symptoms. It happened once three days in a row and finally I went to Urgent Care and was rushed via ambulance to the hospital. Two arteries had three areas of blockage (70-95%) each and would have required six stents. My doctor recommended open heart bypass surgery which I had on July 16. I had no heart attack, just angina, and now my heart is repaired and pretty healthy.

    2. Even if you are deemed quite healthy, family history and genetics trumps clean living. This happened to me in my fifties. I am a non-smoking, exercising near-vegan who has been a vegetarian for 20 years. I had a great cholesterol panel. Yet, I had all these blockages in my heart. Yikes!

    3. Manage stress and blood pressure. This seems to be my areas of weakness. Now my blood pressure is well under control. I have really reduced the stress in my life by balancing work and play time. This year, I published a book on personal branding, went on book tours, did 40+ media interviews all while managing a full client load. It nearly killed me. Literally.

    Mike, you can be my heart health recovery buddy. Balance!

  10. Welcome to the club. I had my heart attack in March (at age 56) and I can relate to your entire story, from driving myself to the hospital, to the EKG leads (I was bruised for a week), to the eating and lifestyle changes, to “balance” epiphany.

    One thing to keep in mind that I can tell you 8 months further down the road is that the medical care today is so good, it’s easy to fall back into old habits because we’re in and out of the hospital so quickly. Your dad and mine would have undergone bypass surgery for the same blockage and would have had big ass scars to remind them every day. I’ve done pretty well “sticking to it” but it’s harder than it was the first three months. It sounds like you have more forgiving doctors that I do. I eat a lot of fish and no red meat. My docs don’t even like the wheat bread. Nothing inflammatory, which means no starches. Ugh!

    Less than 6 months after my heart attack, I took a month off and rode my bike from Canada to Mexico. So you’d think I have the exercise part under control. But with cool weather moving in and lots of Holiday food in front of my face, I’ve been slipping. Your story is a good reminder to be strong!

    Stay balanced, Mike! I posted the “Why Now” link of my BikeTheCoast13 journey for anyone interested. Taking that time off was liberating.

  11. Brian Jones says:

    Holy cow Mike! So glad that you’re on the mend. Thanks for sharing your story and the all too important message!

  12. Hey Mike –

    First of all…wow – what a shock…I’m so glad you’re ok.

    Secondly, thanks so much for sharing your story, which is, literally, life-changing…and potentially life-saving. I have been putting off my annual cardiologist check-up for months (ain’t nobody got time for that!), but you’ve inspired me to make my appointment immediately.

    Thirdly, great job of handling your situation with insight, subtlety, and humor, as you always do…while, at the same time, managing to squeeze in a few plugs for your clients.

    Incredible all around.

    Wishing you well…and a pre-Thanksgiving thank you,

  13. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m very glad you are alive to write about it. Others will see their own stories in yours and will reap the benefit, if they choose to act.

    I hope you have a complete recovery and never have such a horrifying experience again.


  14. Denise says:


    This topic is all too relevant, I had a similar issue this summer and have been working on my boundaries and my work/life balance. It is a struggle every day, but I continue to try to make progress.

    It is definitely a HAPPY THANKSGIVING for you and your family and ALL of us reader’s that salivate for your posts. I crack up of the thought of you taking a “selfie” in your situation. Thanks for the reminder and continue to work on your health. I recently added to my maxims a reminder that HEALTH is WEALTH!

    Take care of yourself!


  15. Duane Penzien says:

    Glad to hear you made it, Mike! I’m glad that OhioHealth and Riverside Methodist took good care of you – I and most readers of this blog would have a hard time if it weren’t for your no-nonsense approach here.

    NOW… get that lifestyle straightened out so we can have you around for a good long time!


  16. Sabina Rademacher says:

    So sorry to hear Mike…just wrote your article!! Glad you recovering..
    Very inspiring.

    Just yesterday, I was sitting in another event “What doctors don’t tell you” – I have been following them for the last 3 years due to my friend dying of bone cancer caused by the wrong medicines!!! I have been almost dying then myself, doctors were not of help at all. I was determined to improve my health in a natural way and I found the solution for me… I signposted it to many many friends. I send you an email.
    In the meanwhile look at this from yesterday’s presentation: Powerful message!!
    ttp:// “Let thy Food be thy Medicine and thy Medicine be thy Food.” — Hippocrates That’s the message from the founding father of modern me…

  17. Julie Donley, RN says:

    Thanks for sharing your ordeal, Mike. It’s very scary when a health event awakens us from our stupor. You are lucky to have another chance. Many don’t.

    In order to change our behaviors, we focus on where we want to be (in a year, 10 years, at retirement, etc.) and the vision we have for our future. As a coach, you know this! It is a compelling vision, the values we see in creating that new reality, and our commitment to it that drives us/motivates us to do what we must do for ourselves today if we want to enjoy and experience that better future. That is what pulls us forward and helps us to shift our thinking and our behaviors.

    In addiction recovery, they say “Keep it green” to remind them of where they have been. Remembering the past helps to keep us motivated to continue the journey and recommit – day in and day out – in order to avoid slipping back into old patterns/habits.

    I recently heard that we can think of exercise as medicine – something we do every day, not once in awhile. When you take meds, you take them daily. This is good food for thought when you’d rather push the snooze button one more time…

    Wishing you all the best and many long, healthy moments, memories, and years to come. You have much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving…


  18. […] Then I had a heart attack. Now I have a couple of stents in my right coronary artery, and a newfound sense of responsibility. I have to take care of myself. This is not a game; this is life or death. […]

  19. […] Then I had a heart attack. Now I have a couple of stents in my right coronary artery, and a newfound sense of responsibility. I have to take care of myself. This is not a game; this is life or death. […]

  20. […] Then I had a heart attack. Now I have a couple of stents in my right coronary artery, and a newfound sense of responsibility. I have to take care of myself. This is not a game; this is life or death. […]

  21. […] Then I had a heart attack. Now I have a couple of stents in my right coronary artery, and a newfound sense of responsibility. I have to take care of myself. This is not a game; this is life or death. […]

  22. […] Then I had a heart attack. Now I have a couple of stents in my right coronary artery, and a newfound sense of responsibility. I have to take care of myself. This is not a game; this is life or death. […]

  23. […] Then I had a heart attack. Now I have a couple of stents in my right coronary artery, and a newfound sense of responsibility. I have to take care of myself. This is not a game; this is life or death. […]

  24. […] Then I had a heart attack. Now I have a couple of stents in my right coronary artery, and a newfound sense of responsibility. … This is not a game; this is life or death. […]

    • Kevin Riley says:

      Great life lessons and glad to hear you are on the mend. I recently started subscription to your blog and took your Strategic Planning Fundamentals @ I coming to rely on your thoughts and knowledge sharing to become an effective leader both in work and home.

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