By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

0300-Feature-Manny Rodriguez_Blog

It had been another stressful day for Manny Rodriguez. Hoping the pressure in his chest and shortness of breath would subside, he rested on the couch after putting his daughters, Maritza and Sofia, to bed on that August night in 2014.

That’s when he felt a tightness in his shoulder and neck that went up to his jaw. Then he started sweating. Rodriguez knew he was having a heart attack and called for his daughters. He told then-14-year-old Sofia to call 911.

“My daughter called 911 at 9:30 in the evening. At 10:40 I was looking at the clock in the hospital. They had already put the stent in my heart. They saved my life in less than an hour,” said Rodriguez, a photographer from Dallas.

After a day in the hospital, Rodriguez started cardiac rehabilitation, a program he said was instrumental in his physical recovery and teaching him how to prevent another heart attack.

Rodriguez before his heart attack had already been making some small changes – eating healthier, exercising a bit. Today, the 56-year-old makes most of his meals at home, has almost completely cut sugar from his diet and exercises six times a week.

He recently separated from his wife and has learned to better handle the stress of juggling his photography business, raising his daughters and taking better care of his health.

Although it’s unclear how stress may contribute to heart attacks, chronic stress has been linked to high blood pressure, a major risk factor. Stress can also lead to a higher rate of smoking and physical inactivity. Rodriguez said exercise has worked best to manage his stress.

Eating well has been the hardest change, he said. “I hold a lot of social events where I serve wine, cheese and crackers, and I can’t touch the cheese and crackers. It’s tough.”

Beyond his own health, he wants his daughters to understand the importance of eating well and exercising. They’ve told Rodriguez they feel better when they skip the fatty foods and eat healthier.

“They were going to the gym with me,” he said.

His daughters and two adult sons, Zachary and Adam, inspire him to stick with his new lifestyle.

“What scared me the most after the surgery was thinking of my kids,” Rodriguez said. “That’s still the most motivating thing, not leaving them without a dad.”

Photo courtesy of Manny Rodriguez