Jamestown Employee’s Life Filled With Love After Heart Attack

Most people wouldn’t consider Jamestown employee Tom Heffernan someone at risk of having a heart attack.

Jamestown employee Tom Heffernan with his four-year-old granddaughter, Peyton.
Jamestown employee Tom Heffernan with his four-year-old granddaughter, Peyton.

In 2014, at the age of 50, Heffernan was the picture of health. He was never a smoker or alcohol user and he had spent the previous decade of his life shedding 300 pounds and was now lean and heart-healthy.

Despite requiring gall bladder surgery, things were looking well for Tom. “I was 50 years old and had been in pretty good health for a long time,” he said.

Unfortunately, what should have been a simple gall bladder removal during Thanksgiving 2014 turned into a life-threatening situation. During Tom’s recuperation from surgery, he suffered a mild heart attack.

“I collapsed one morning in our bathroom, and upon falling also broke several ribs,” he said about the incident.

‘I was terrified’
After collapsing in the bathroom, Heffernan was transported by ambulance to the nearest Emergency Room.

“With my mother passing in 2005 from COPD at the age of 71, I was terrified. I have eight children and I cannot imagine my wife having to do it without me there,” he said.

During his heart attack, he recalls: “They did every test and electrode to see what happened,” he said.

Doctors examined his heart muscle and didn’t see any permanent damage, which perplexed everyone.

“My cholesterol was very good, my blood sugars were in acceptable ranges, and they were just unable to nail down what had triggered this,” he said.

Alive and grateful
Tom continues to maintain healthy numbers, is consistent with follow-up visits, lab work, EKG’s, and no further indications of issues have arisen.

“One thing the entire experience did was to give me a better perspective on my own life,” he said. “Don’t take things for granted.”

Some other words of wisdom from Heffernan:

* Tell you family you love them each and every day.
* Do something nice for someone who least expects it.
* Don’t center your life around petty things or negativity. It just isn’t worth it.
* Life is so precious.
* Success is based on relationships and the impact you make on others; not around the balance in your checking account.

“I am so much happier now than I’ve ever been in my life,” Heffernan said. “The events in our lives are what define us. I guess in some twisted way I’m thankful for what happened to me, as it has opened my eyes to what is really important in life.”

Heffernan poses for a photograph with granddaughter and “best buddy” Peyton.
Heffernan poses for a photograph with granddaughter and “best buddy” Peyton.

The greatest gift
While Heffernan is grateful for his health, an even greater gift, he says is: “My granddaughter Peyton.”

Peyton has Muscular Dystrophy.

“This little angel has suffered more medical hardships in her short four years than most would have in a dozen lifetimes,” he said. “I truly feel that she was given to me as an angel as she has shown me what true joy is in life. She’s my best buddy and I am so thankful to be blessed with her.”

Lonna Whiting is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.