Ten years ago, I had a heart attack. Had I not had that heart attack, I don't think I'd be here today. Like many men of my age, I had neglected my health to the point that it almost cost me my life. A heart attack was my wake-up call.

My heart attack was preceded by a series of not-so-very-subtle warning signs that I continued to ignore until I couldn't ignore them any longer and I wound up in the emergency room, staring up at the ceiling, wondering if I was going to live or die.

"Do you know why you are here?" asked the attending physician.

"I think I may have had a heart attack," I replied.

He assured me that in fact, I had indeed suffered a heart attack and for the first time in my life I was facing my mortality. I was 52 years old at the time.

My heart was damaged by the heart attack and I would forever have heart disease.

After a stent was installed and I began to recover from my experience, I began to realize that things were going to have to be different from that point forward. My doctor told me he could probably keep me alive for another 30 years if I did what he told me to do. I was all ears.

I had lived my life as if it were on borrowed time, not realizing just how close to being true that was. I was reckless and did little to take care of myself. I had not seen a doctor for at least 10 years before being stricken. I smoked for a lot of years. There were booze and drugs and all of the wrong kinds of foods and not enough exercise. I was living to die.

I had passed 50 and had not had the right of passage yet, the dreaded colonoscopy. Good thing I did, as it was discovered that I had several fairly large pre-cancerous polyps in my colon that had I continued to ignore might have killed me. It was also determined that I had developed high blood pressure and diabetes, two other problems that I might not have become aware of had I not suffered a heart attack.

My condition has remained stable for 10 years and in fact, my doctors are pleased with what I have done to maintain my health since the heart attack. Diet and exercise are key components of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, as is keeping your weight in check. I have lost 40 pounds since my heart attack and though it is sometimes a struggle, I work to keep it off.

If there is any advice I can offer, particularly to men, it is to get a doctor and keep your scheduled appointments even if you are feeling okay. Had I taken better care of myself when I was younger I might have avoided a heart attack. I can't go back and fix that now, but I can move forward with the knowledge that I can help to prevent another.

I don't know why I didn't die 10 years ago but I thank God every day that I didn't. I was given another chance. Not everyone is that fortunate.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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