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American Heart Month: Jersey City man who survived 2 heart attacks offers advice on warning signs

N.J. man who survived 2 heart attacks offers advice on warning signs
N.J. man who survived 2 heart attacks offers advice on warning signs 02:29

NEW YORK -- February is American Heart Month. The American Heart Association says heart disease has now been the leading cause of death in the U.S. for a century.

To raise awareness about the warning signs, a Jersey City man who survived two heart attacks spoke with CBS New York.

As one of nine siblings with no genetic predisposition, Carlos Mercado did not expect a walk on the treadmill would lead to emergency open heart surgery back in 2010, when he was 42.

"I would feel my heart almost exaggerated the pumping. I started feeling pressure on my chest," Mercado said.

He called an 911 and later underwent triple-bypass surgery.

"It was complicated, stressful. The recovery was hard. You saw a change in my mood," Mercado said.

READ MOREAmerican Heart Month: Yonkers woman grateful her sneaky symptoms were identified in time

Fast forward to 2022. He said the pandemic created stress and unhealthy eating. Once restrictions lifted, he returned to the gym.

"I felt some knocking on the back of my neck. I thought it was a migraine and I don't usually get migraines," Mercado said.

Instead of brushing it off as heartburn, he called an ambulance.

"He had more than four blockages. Anatomy was very complex," said Dr. Haroon Faraz, director of interventional cardiology at Hackensack University Medical Center.

READ MOREIf heart disease runs in your family, talk to your doctor about HCM

Faraz offered using a device that supports the heart muscle.

"He explained the Impella, which is this here. It goes in through your artery from your leg," Mercado said. "This device allows the heart to rest while the doctor performs the surgery."

"So even though the heart is not pumping, you are still giving adequate blood to the vital organs -- the kidneys, the brain, the liver -- and you're not compromising the blood circulation," Faraz said.

Mercado said the recovery lasted two days.

"I'm back at the gym. I like to be the family clown," he said. "I've been known at parties to actually do the split on the dance floor."

READ MOREIn battle against heart disease, coronary heart CT scanning technology continues to improve with AI-assisted software

He said he shares his story with everyone every chance he gets.

"I have a purpose to spread the word. I was asked to be a speaker at the Pride parade in Jersey City in August," Mercado said.

"Two-thirds of the time you won't have typical signs. Your jaw may hurt. People get dizzy sometimes. They're short of breath. Sometimes they break out in cold sweat," Faraz said, adding anything out of the ordinary warrants immediate medical attention because delays can damage the heart muscle.

"Don't play with your heart. That's your battery. That's what keeps you going. Don't wait too long," Mercado said.

Mercado said he has since lost more than 20 pounds, and is appreciating every moment of life.

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