Heart attacks do not discriminate.

Eddie Pabon is a testament to that. The 36-year-old respiratory therapist was just finishing his shift at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center when he started experiencing tightness in his chest. “First, it started on the right side of my chest, then it began on the left side as well. It felt like a vice was gripping me,” Pabon said.

Pabon dismissed the pain as an anxiety attack and continued working on his report. The pain subsided but then returned with a vengeance. “It felt like my shoulder blades were going to snap,” he said. A colleague noticed that Pabon looked ashen and suggested taking him to the emergency room as a precaution.

After receiving an initial electrocardiogram, the nurse at the ER rushed to gather the cardiology team and got Pabon ready for surgery. “I grabbed the nurse’s hand and asked ‘am I having a heart attack?’ She said yes.”

Pabon remembers some of what happened next as he drifted in and out of consciousness. He heard Dr. Samuel Turner, an interventional cardiologist, saying that 99 percent of his right coronary artery was blocked and 75 percent of the circumflex artery on his left side also being blocked. He was going to need two stents to open the arteries.

Immediately following the procedure, Pabon remembers feeling relief from the pressure and tightness in his chest. He’s certain that if he had gone home that day instead of stopping at the ER the outcome would have been very different. “The only reason I survived was because I chose not to go home,” he said.

There is no history of heart disease in his family, according to Pabon. He works out, has never smoked, doesn’t drink and eats right. He has been on medication for high blood pressure for 14 years, however, and has been taking increasingly higher doses of the drug. “Prior to my heart attack, my average blood pressure was 150 or 160 over 110 or 115 and I was on 400 milligrams of medication,” Pabon said.

Now, he keeps a daily log and his average blood pressure is no higher than 118 over 64 and he is taking half his previous dose of blood pressure medicine. He also takes a daily aspirin and is on blood thinners.

Looking back to his previous visits with his primary care doctor, Pabon thinks he didn’t ask enough questions of his provider. He’s also urging everyone he knows regardless of their age to get screened. “People need to get checked out and have their lipid panels done,” he said.

“Kids think they are superhuman. I did, until I found my Kryptonite,” Pabon said.

In honor of Pabon and other heart disease and stroke survivors, the American Heart Association and Novant Health are hosting a celebration of life at the Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center on Thursday, March 16, from 3 to 6 p.m. To register to attend, please email sarah.fedele@heart.org or call 336-542-4837 .