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Former CPR instructor suffers heart attack, uses Heart Walk as recovery goal

Eric Douglas has spent much of his life scuba diving, and his career teaching first aid and CPR to thousands of people. Now, he's an author, spending much of his time writing books about diving. (WCHS/WVAH)

The 2017 Charleston Heart Walk, benefiting heart and stroke research in West Virginia, will be held this Saturday, September 30th. Ahead of the event, Eyewitness News Anchor Whitney Wetzel sat down with a heart survivor from Elkview, who had no family history of any heart issues, but was well aware of the signs and symptoms. Yet, he did what many people do, which is ignore them.

"I've been a diver for 27 years. Learned how to dive here in West Virginia at Summersville Lake," Eric Douglas said. "But, I've had the good fortune of diving quite a bit all over the world and I've been to some really cool places."

Douglas has spent much of his life scuba diving, and his career teaching first aid and CPR to thousands of people. Now, he's an author, spending much of his time writing books about diving.

"When you're working as a writer, especially, you're sedentary. You're sitting at your computer," Douglas explained. "So I wasn't eating well, I wasn't exercising, and it all just finally caught up with me."

In 2015, Douglas was experiencing symptoms that felt like heartburn for about six months, but he put off seeing a doctor until the following year.

"I had an episode right before Christmas where we had been out. It was extremely warm that year. I came into the house after we had been out on the river all evening. I hit the top of the stairs over there and I was like 'oh this heartburn is really killing me!'"

About a month later into 2016, Douglas finally went to get a stress test.

"Went in and they said 'yeah, you've had a heart attack. You've already had one.'"

Doctors immediately admitted Douglas to CAMC where he spent the next nine days in the hospital undergoing a quintuple bypass.

"I had five artery blockages and had open heart surgery and had five bypasses," said Douglas.

Before Douglas left the hospital, he set a goal to get back to diving status, which he was cleared to do within six months. Then it was time to set another goal.

"So that's when last year at the Heart Walk, it's a walk, but I decided I was going to jog the entire distance of the Heart Walk," Douglas said. "I felt good about it. It was slow, but I got through it and it was just one more hurdle to get over."

Since Douglas' surgery, he's lost 40 pounds and makes eating healthy and exercising a priority in his life. His advice to others is to do those things before you get a wake up call like he did.

"The fear that I inflicted on my family, I'm sure my kids were wondering 'are we about to lose our dad?' I feel like I was really selfish. And so don't wait."

Douglas has since written "Heart Survivor: Recovery from Heart Surgery" in hopes of helping others. You can purchase it on his website www.booksbyeric.com.

You can see Douglas and all other local heart and stroke survivors on Saturday, September 30 at the 2017 Charleston Heart Walk. Registration begins at the State Capitol Complex at 9:00 a.m. The 5K walk will start at 9:30 a.m. All proceeds will benefit the American Heart Association.

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