MY DEATH CHANGED ME. I HOPE IT WILL CHANGE YOU.
Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine your wife or husband is told by your doctor that you had a significant heart attack. He explains that you may not survive the night and your wife or husband should bring your teenaged children to the hospital to say, “Good bye”. And if you do survive your family, the people you love the most in the world can be consoled by the fact that you will most likely be a vegetable and unable to take care of yourself. Now how do you feel? It could happen to you, G-d forbid. It happened to me. Please read my story below so you won’t have to live with the same guilt I now live with for the rest of my life.
My name is Leibel Winegard and I usually don’t like to write about myself nor do I typically engage in social media. However, I believe it is vital for me to spread my story because it may help someone out there. I have told my story several times and several cardiologists have suggested that I need to make sure that as many people as possible understand that what happened to me, can easily happen to you. I write this story with tears. This account originates from multiple sources because candidly, I lost six days of my life that I cannot account for today. I simply don’t have any recall of even leaving my home, much less all that happened to me and my family once my heart attack started. I’ve done the best to be as accurate and as detailed as possible.
Los Angeles Marathon- Sunday- 2017. In the morning, I attended the open house of a new building my client built where our firm was the Construction Manager. I remember the celebration and the joy as this was a relatively large building built just a few miles from my home. When I got home, I was hot and felt exhausted. Sitting on the couch in the living room, I didn’t even have the energy to change out of my suit and tie and I asked my son to go get me a change of clothes. My last memory for the next six days was sitting on the couch feeling hot and out of breath.
After I woke up in the hospital, I was told that my sons who are trained in first aid, CPR, and are almost Eagle Scouts knew I was in trouble and needed urgent medical assistance. They said I got sick to my stomach and I told them that I would not let them call 911. Instead, they told me that I thought I was having an asthma attack and I suggested that they get our neighbor, who is a trained first responder to drive me to Dr. Ben Zur because he was open on Sundays. I DON’T REMEMBER LEAVING MY HOME AND GETTING IN THE CAR. As we were driving and speaking with Ramiro navigating to Dr. Ben Zur’s office, I am told I developed severe chest pain and then slumped over. My son knew he needed to keep my airway open and grabbed my head from behind so I could breathe. My neighbor told Ramiro that I was nearby Sherman Oaks Hospital in Sherman Oaks, CA. and that he was taking me there because he didn’t think I would survive the drive through heavy traffic to Dr. Ben Zur’s office. By the time I was at the hospital parking lot I had gone into cardiac arrest, my heart stopped and I understand I took my last breath of oxygen for probably at least 5 minutes. Worse, I was told by an LA County Deputy Sherriff that it is very important if you have an emergency because it significantly delays the Emergency Room’s response to starting the necessary treatment.
Because my treatment was somewhat delayed, the ER (emergency room) staff had to perform CPR on me for between 30 and 40 minutes. Thank G-d, after the third and final electric shock, I was revived from death.
My wife immediately notified Dr. Ben Zur’s office which was about 6 miles away in Tarzana, CA. Because it was a Sunday and probably because it was the marathon day, all the streets and the freeways were virtual parking lots. Cars were standing still in all directions. This was especially the case for Ventura Boulevard and the Ventura Freeway which are the only ways to rapidly get from Tarzana to Sherman Oaks. Suddenly, Dr. Ben-Zur appeared in the Sherman Oaks emergency room and took control of the situation. My wife was astonished because she knew that they had just spoken with Dr. Ben-Zur by phone and he was in his Tarzana office. One of the nurses looked at Dr. Ben-Zur and said “you must have superpowers” I just spoke with you and you were in Tarzana. But, I know how he did it, his genuine care and love for his patients provides him with unique abilities. That is the secret superpower that God has bestowed upon Dr. Ben-Zur.
When Dr. Ben-Zur arrived I was in cardiac shock with a very poor blood pressure and I was on a respiratory machine. The staff of the hospital informed my family that my chances of survival were dismal. Apparently, Sherman Oaks Hospital does not have the ability to operate on my condition. Thank G-d, Dr. Ben-Zur ordered an ambulance to Sherman Oaks Hospital while he was driving. The ambulance immediately came to where I was located and transported me to Tarzana Hospital. Dr. Ben-Zur also asked the great one, Ramiro, (SM) to call ahead of time to Tarzana Hospital. The entire Tarzana Hospital ER and operating room staff were all there waiting for the ambulance to arrive. One of the ER doctors commented that for the past 20 years Dr. Ben-Zur has always arrived before the ambulances. “Every second counts,” said Dr. Ben-Zur, the difference between life and death may be a matter of only a few minutes. One of the ambulance crew members said to Dr. Ben-Zur “I know you left after us, I saw you! How is it possible that you got here before us?” Apparently, caring gives you higher powers than the wailing sirens of the Los Angeles Fire Department. Now every time I hear sirens I think of Dr. Ben-Zur and where he might be. Perhaps he’s flying overhead?
I subsequently made a full recovery and I am back with my family, my wife and three children. My daughter Shira does not allow people to refer to Dr. Ben-Zur as Dr. Ben-Zur. She insists that we all call him Abba’s Dr. Ben-Zur and all of us occasionally call him Rabbi Ben Zur as a measure of added respect. Whenever she sees Dr. Ben-Zur she runs over to give him a deep hug. She too has become a vegetarian (at 14 years old) and my 15 and 17-year-old sons now are more conscious of our family history and try to exercise more and more.
When I come to the office I’m greeted by an incredible staff. People who go above and beyond to love and respect each and every one of their patients. What an incredibly loving atmosphere. A team that saves lives for a living and cares and truly cares about each and every individual person. When I tell you that I love going to the office, I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but it’s the truth. My doctor and his staff are special. Please, If you see Dr. Ben-Zur or any of his staff members, please give them a big hug. Tell them Leibel sends his love and gratitude for keeping his family together.
The purpose of this letter is to help save lives. You need to understand how lucky I was that I was a patient of Dr. Ben Zurs and the Cardiac Institute. Once I woke up six days later, I had several doctors and nurses at the Tarzana Hospital coming in to see me and they called me a miracle. I thought they were being kind and encouraging me to help. The truth is that a very close friend of mine is a cardiac care specialist who has won fellowships and publishes and delivers papers at prestigious cardiac conferences. He explained to me three months after my heart attack just how lucky I was to have Dr. Ben Zur provide the care he did when I needed it. My friend explained that because I went so long without oxygen from not breathing and because it took precious moments to start CPR which lasted so long, the statistics of my survival, particularly that I, thank G-d, didn’t have any loss of mental capacity nor physical complications were probably 1 in 1 million. Yes – I am a miracle. What that means is that there are 999,999 others most-likely that given the same situation would be dead or a vegetable.
So what do you do? Please, I beg of you do the following:
1.Go to Dr. Ben Zur for a check-up.
2.Start a vegetarian diet. Get your family, including your children to start eating properly, especially if you have a family history of cardiac disease.
3.Exercise. It is the summer now and my wife and I walk laps at the mall. It is air conditioned with flat surfaces and there are bathrooms and chairs available to sit down if you need them.
4.Take your blood pressure and start a record of your daily BP, weight, medications, and exercise so you and Dr. Ben Zur can see how you are doing over time.
5.Realize that while your work is important, your family is more important. I wore my strong work ethic like a badge of honor. I used to be so proud that I was one of the first in the office in the morning and always the last to leave Working 60 or more hours on a salaried job where you are not paid a dollar more over 40 hours indicates you have your priorities wrong.
6.Take vacations. Give your family the memories they can share with their children and grandchildren.
7.Sleep. Again, I used to be so proud of myself that I was able to work an extremely long day on four hours of sleep. Lack of sleep plays a major role in weight gain, stress, and heart disease. To quote Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
8.Love yourself. Dr. Ben Zur almost always greets you with a hug because he knows that in today’s high energy environment, we rarely take care of ourselves. When Dr. Ben Zur hugs me, it brings me back to a reality that I too have to hug myself. I have to love myself because I deserve to be loved.
9. Finally, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you MIGHT need emergency medical attention, call 9-1-1 immediately. I was the 1 in a million chance that survived cardiac arrest after waiting far too long to get treatment and you and your family will have a much higher rate of survival if you go into the emergency room from an ambulance than if you drive in yourself.
10.Have your family and friends learn CPR and the signs of cardiac arrest and stroke. Seconds mean lives.
Thank G-d I don’t have any recollection of the physical pain associated with my heart attack. Having said that, however, knowing that I cause my wife and children such pain hearing I may die and seeing me on life support is horrible. I live with this guilt every day. But I use this guilt as the motivation to exercise more, eat a vegetarian diet, and walk away from stress at work and home. I want to become their role model of healthy living. That is the only way I can bear the guilt of having given them such a scare.
Thank you very much for reading my letter. I would be glad to further discuss my near-death experience, as well as how I am making the necessary changes in my life to beat heart disease. I suggest you reach out to Dr. Ben Zur and Ramiro to get a hold of me.
Wishing you the good health.