A Heart Attack Changed My Life, Part 1: “You must be overworked.”
Thursday, December 24th, 2009
Dr. Dilip Sarkar is one of the healthiest vascular surgeons in Portsmouth, Virginia. He exercises, eats right and gets regular check-ups. He doesn’t smoke, have no traditional risk factors and doesn’t have a family history of heart disease.
While no one expects to have a heart attack, Sarkar was completely unprepared for the heart attack he suffered on his 52nd birthday. He narrates his experience and begins the story of how he transformed his life.
Dilip Sarkar: It was my operating day. I still remember it was a Wednesday. I had just completed 7 or 8 surgeries and had come home. I was not feeling well (unexplained fatigue) but I did not have any classic symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain or shortness of breath. When I shared my discomfort with my wife she said that I looked tired and that I “must be over worked.” A family friend came for my birthday dinner that evening and I could not eat properly during the meal. My friend also said, “You must be overworked.”
After my friend left, I checked my pulse and it was high. As a physician, I knew it was a cardiovascular issue. My wife told me to call a physician, which I did. My cardiologist friend was waiting for me at the hospital when I got there. He took my EKG and told me I was having a heart attack. He took me right in for a coronary angiogram, which showed triple vessel disease. The doctor recommended coronary artery bypass surgery, which was performed two days later.
From that moment, something changed inside me. I have always been a spiritual person. But at that moment after surgery I said to God, “Have it as you will.” I had to surrender to him. I had been one of the busiest surgeons in town, yet when I came back home after my operation I decided I was not going to go back to work part time, as suggested by my cardiologist.
This experience had me questioning, “Why me? What is next in my life?” My cardiologist had told me after the surgery that I did not possess any risk factors for a future heart attack, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc. Therefore, the remedy was not in medication (to control the risk factors), but rather in learning to control the mind and the stress of daily life. I wondered what else should I do since all of my life I had studied science and medicine.
So I decided to take a different approach and look to alternative and spiritual remedies for health and wellness. I met an Ayurvedic practitioner who told me, “We will use food as medicine.” So I had my dietetic consultation from this Ayurvedic practioner, which introduced me to the discipline of Ayurveda.
At the same time, my mother-in-law, a retired professor of history in India, shared her experience of yoga asana (postures) and pranayam (the science of breathing) with me. She herself had become a Swami Ram Dev certified teacher and was teaching to groups in India. She suggested that I also incorporate yoga asana and pranayam into my recovery, along with the medications and dietetic consultations.
I looked at yoga asana and pranayam video by Swami Ram Dev and I was sold. Immediately I started to practice yoga as therapy and began to study Ayurvedic nutrition and cooking. It took me six years to learn about these alternative and complementary therapies. In the meantime, I downsized my lifestyle. My wife and I moved out of a large family home and bought a condominium. I was not working, but my recovery was going fairly well. Eventually, this new lifestyle of integrating Ayurveda, yoga asana and pranayam resulted in improvement in my organ functions. My cardiac stress test was improving. My doctors took me off the beta-blockers and eventually, took me off most of my medications.
I have literally used food as my medicine and still do, by balancing my diet through Ayurvedic principles. I currently do not take any medicine. What I do instead is daily yoga asana and pranayam in the morning for about 1 ½ to 2 hours. I supplement this with weight training and treadmill activities every other day. However, more importantly, I live a yogic lifestyle. I have mind control and my body is relaxed. According to Ayurvedic thinking, if the body and mind are relaxed, then food is properly digested because digestion is a complex process of mind, body and spirit. If one is not relaxed in mind, body and spirit then food is not holistically digested and more toxins are produced, which becomes the root cause of disease.
Stay tuned for Part II and learn more about Dr. Sarkar’s new lifestyle.
As you enjoy the holidays and gear up for 2010…